Journal Abbreviations

It would be most uncharacteristic of me to miss out on the opportunity to have a good whinge about something and yesterday’s post provides the perfect platform. Those well versed in academic literature will know that some journals demand the use of abbreviated journal titles in the reference list. So ‘Journal of Vertebrate’ Paleontology might appear as ‘J. Vert. Paleo.’. This was obstensibly done to save space I assume, though I recall at least one journal that used this system while wasting acres of space by not running articles together on a page so anything that crept over by a couple of lines would have an a near blank page below it.

However it never seemed to save very much at all, and with the vast majority of research taking place as PDFs these days it seems increasingly irrelevant (much like numbered references). However, they do hold sway in a few outposts at least and for me at least, they’re very annoying. It’s never quite clear how you’re supposed to abbreviate journals (after all, I’ve never come across any form of standardised list or guidelines as to how many characters or syllables to save), but more importantly it’s not always easy to work out what a journal was from the abbreviation.

Sure, plenty of them are obvious enough and if you work in vertebrate palaeontology you’ll know plenty of the papers themselves let alone the journals. Others can be tracked down by the rest of the reference and especially with online search engines things get a lot easier. But there are still masses of old, obscure and especially foreign journals that are hard if not impossible to work out from the few letters that are often afforded. This of course only gets harder when you move outside of your usual field and want to track don something a little unfamiliar. As noted yesterday there’s plenty of overlap between all manner of fields and there are for example papers in maths, physics and engineering journals that relate to flight for example. But working out what they are is going to be pretty hard unless you’re well versed in the literature of that subject.

In short it’s all a bit of a pain. It doesn’t really save space (after all, many journals have short names that cant really be abbreviated, or huge lists of authors or long titles that mean even saving a few letters on a journal name doesn’t do much) and can make finding references really difficult. So it’s hard for me to work out exactly what purpose it serves these days. I’d gladly see the back of them and I can’t imagine I’m the only one.

12 Responses to “Journal Abbreviations”

  1. 1 Heinrich Mallison 21/02/2012 at 10:13 am

    Let me shorten your post for you:

    “Journal abbreviations are a thing of the past and suck!”

    Amen, brother!🙂

  2. 2 Christopher Taylor 21/02/2012 at 10:26 am

    You can add my name to the list of those who absolutely loathe abbreviated titles. If they’re for journals in a language that you’re not intimately familiar with, they’re impossible (a problem I often have with older German journals). I hate to think what they must be like for non-native English speakers.

    Even if they’re in a supposedly familiar language, they can still be difficult. Imagine coming across a reference to “J. Pal. Soc.” Is that “Journal of the Paleontology Society”? “Journal of the Palaeontology Society”? “Journal of the Palaeontological Society”? Or is it even “Journal of the Paleontographical Society” or “Journal of Palaeontology and Sociology”, just to be really perverse. I know that every time I come across a reference to “Proc. Nat. Acad. Sci. USA”, I still have a momentary uncertainty about whether it’s the National Academy of Science or the National Academy of Sciences, and that’s not even a very obscure journal.

    The worst real life example I can think of off the top of my head is the old New Zealand journal often abbreviated as “Trans. N.Z. Inst.” This may seem fairly straightforward, until you discover that the full title is the “Transactions and Proceedings of the New Zealand Institute”!

    • 3 David Hone 21/02/2012 at 10:31 am

      Yeah thanks to my pterosaur work I do have to deal with old German journals especially that have really long and convoluted titles that then get abbreviated to something very short and unworkoutable.

  3. 4 Mike Taylor 21/02/2012 at 11:32 am

    Well, you get another cheap “Amen” here. Journal-title abbreviations, absolutely stupid in this day and age. I well remember making a submission a few years ago to a journal that required abbreviations, and having to make A lot of enquiries to find a list of abbreviations that they liked, before finally finding three lists, which — you have guessed the punchline — were mutually incompatible. In the end, abbreviating the journal titles probably took me longer than all the rest of the submission preparation put together … And all that to remove information.

    Oh, and I was required to abbreviate “Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology” to “J. Vertebr. Paleontol.”. Seriously.

  4. 5 forgottengenius 21/02/2012 at 11:46 am

    I’m going to chip in too. As a student trying to get familiar with journal titles and what else, abbreviations are a nightmare, and say very little. Furthermore, in the instances when references are given in the shortest possible way, the reference list is practically useless; it reads like a set of hieroglyphs and offers little opportunity to continue exploring the field, except by means of looking the references up individually.

    As an additional note, I should add your ‘whines’ always are spot-on, and I more than welcome further ‘whining’ in the future.

  5. 6 Paul Barrett 21/02/2012 at 11:16 pm

    I agree it’s annoying, and not really that helpful these days, but it is pretty easy to find this stuff out (after all, people have been using these for decades, as a quick scan through back issues of Nature and Science will show): a Google search immediately threw this list up, for example, as well as numerous library pages with both their own lists and links to other web pages with links:

    • 7 Mike Taylor 21/02/2012 at 11:49 pm

      The problem is, that’s not the list, it’s only a list. There are several out there, specifying different abbreviations for the same journals.

      While I’m at it, another pet hate: throwing away first names and only retaining the initial. What on earth is gained by listing P. Upchurch as an author instead of Paul Upchurch?

    • 9 David Hone 22/02/2012 at 8:30 am

      In general it is easy enough Paul, any maybe I am incompetent, but some of the German ones I have had huge trouble reconstructing and spent probably a good 10 or 20 minutes trying to work out what it should be. When you have half a dozen like that it really is quite annoying to have spent and hour or so to write out parts of five references.

      • 10 Mike Taylor 22/02/2012 at 8:40 am

        Right. And irrespective of how long is taken in any particular case, there is a broader issue here, which is: do we really want this to be part of scholarship? In the current landscape, a significant proportion of all the time I spend on palaeontological work is frittered away on pithering little things like finding “correct” journal abbreviations, ensuring my manuscripts have “the right kind of dash”, putting the commas between author names and dates in citations (or taking them out, depending on the journal). It’s seems crazy to me that that’s part of what it means to be a scholar in the 21st Century. It costs a lot of money to train a Ph.D., and while no-one would claim that academics overpaid, their salaries are not small. Do we really want to be paying top-level scientists professional salaries to do low-level clerical work?

      • 11 Heinrich Mallison 22/02/2012 at 8:46 am

        to add to this: I once was given a link by an editor: “here is our list of abbreviations” – the first ten I checked I found half differing from what the journal actually had used in the previous issue. Needless to say, I did NOT submit there.

  6. 12 John Scanlon, FCD 25/02/2012 at 7:36 pm

    Back when I was a postgrad in the early 90s (essentially, pre-internet), on one occasion the pile of surplus volumes near the library doors contained a book that was basically an alphabetic list of abbreviated (and full) journal titles. This would be updated and replaced regularly (probably annually), hence my score. It turned out to be very useful during a certain stage of literature search and also in manuscript preparation, and I kept it with me through about a dozen changes of residence out of gratitude, rather than current utility. Only went in the recycling a year ago.

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