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Which expression should be used as a section heading of an academic paper: related work or related works? This is a question that has been bothering me for years, as googling shows that both have a large number of usages.

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5 Answers

up vote 12 down vote accepted

What is the context?

If the heading refers to things you produced in the same or relevant subject area, then work is uncountable, and the heading should be Related Work.

If the heading refers to your oeuvre or the output of a fellow artist, then work is countable in this case, and the heading should be Related Works.

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+1 Works tend to refer to an individuals works, whereas work to a subject area. –  Schroedingers Cat Jan 25 '12 at 9:10
    
I've never seen this section named "Related Works" in a paper, ever. But maybe this is depends on the field of the paper. –  bitmask Jan 26 '12 at 0:34
    
@bitmask Precisely; works are "something produced by a writer, painter, musician, or other artist." –  Gnawme Jan 26 '12 at 0:50
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According to Google Ngram Viewer, the capitalized forms (as would be typical for section headings) are both used, but Related Work is considerably more common.

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Related Work

However, there are at least three cases where a distinction may need to be made.

  1. If it is a list of literary items (works), then it could be plural: Related Works.
  2. If it is a paragraph on other related work done by the author, then singular: Related Work.
  3. If it is a list of engineering projects, then plural: Related Works.

In general it is singular: Related Work.

See also, some random examples from Wikipedia:
Australopithecus afarensis

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If would depend on the context of the writing in question. If you want to pluralize work to works it should be in the case of referring to the body of work as multiple discrete items (ie works of art).

In the case of writing --

works

John had done a great deal of writing for clients in the past on these same topics. His related works included a blog post on Engadget and a magazine article for Wired.

work

John had done a great deal of related work writing on these same topics in the past.

This gets back to @Gnawme's point about the work being either countable or uncountable. If you can substitute stuff or another amorphous noun, then use work.

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It would depend on whether your use of the word "work" in context refers to a countable work or not. If you're talking about books, paintings, or other things that are referred to as "works", then use the plural. If you're talking about uncountable work, like "I've also worked in engineering and medicine", then it's probably uncountable and thus you should use the singular.

The distinction is not necessarily consistent. A list of books you have written would be called "works". But a list of software products you have written would probably be called "work". That is, it is common to say, "The author of 'Economics of Tibetan Agriculture', Mr Jones, has three previous works in this field ..." and then list the titles. But no one says, "The author of 'Tax Prep Pro version 4.2', Mr Smith, has three previous works in this field ...".

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