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I have a question regarding how to write correctly the name of a microorganism in the title of my thesis when using letters in uppercase:

Option A:

...BLAH...BLAH... ESCHERICHIA COLI ...BLAH...BLAH... .

Option B:

...BLAH...BLAH... Escherichia coli ...BLAH...BLAH... .

I guess option B is the most correct in this case. Is that right?


I've searched for an answer to this question and I've found this link that says that one should never capitalise names of organisms in titles or headings. I asked two worldwide recognised microbiologists: Alan Bull and Michel Goodfellow and they told me that a correct way of writing names of organisms in headings is as in option B: that's the norm and scientifically correct. In my thesis title, I decided to go for option B.

closed as primarily opinion-based by Drew, Chenmunka, michael_timofeev, TimLymington, MetaEd Nov 25 '15 at 0:58

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

  • I think this question asks (and answers) a specific and unusual style question (about handling species names in titles) that future users may find quite helpful. I think it should be reopened. – Sven Yargs Nov 30 '15 at 17:28
  • I absolutely agree with Sven Yargs. I also think this question should be reopened, since there is no relevant information on the web in this regard. The answers given to this question could be a source of useful information for students and people from academia. – user2292533 Dec 2 '15 at 0:46
  • isn't this a matter for a style guide? – Roaring Fish Dec 5 '15 at 10:11
  • Essentially, the scientific community would say that IUPAC pronouncements trump the lesser rules and conventions of muggles (non-Scientists). While teaching, I came across the inane situation where students would lose a mark for spelling sulphur 'sulphur' in science, but would lose a mark for spelling it 'sulfur' in English essays. // This is not a question for ELU to pronounce upon. Why use capitals for the title? If you've been instructed to by somebody, ask them to decide. Then let us know. But it's quite possible that the next person with this problem will be advised differently. – Edwin Ashworth Dec 5 '15 at 11:45
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Your question ventures deep into the territory of style issues—where choices are a matter of preference, not of objective right and wrong. Nevertheless, I think it's an interesting question.

If you're running the title in all-uppercase letters, it seems to me, you have already adopted a rather unorthodox title style. That being the case, you are operating outside the ambit of most style guides and are free to deal with the scientific name Escherichia coli as you see fit.

My preference, if the rest of the title is to appear in roman all-caps, would be to render it in italic all-caps. I can't think of any rationale for suddenly switching from all-caps to standard in-text genus-and-species form for a scientific name—just as it would seem odd to switch from all-caps to upper and lower case for Democratic Republic of the Congo in the midst of a bunch of all-cap BLAH BLAH BLAHS. So I would recommend following your option A above in this case:

BLAH BLAH BLAH BLAH ESCHERICHIA COLI BLAH BLAH

If you are working in normal title case, where articles (definite and indefinite) and short prepositions are lowercased, I would be inclined to follow scientific style rather than word-based uppercasing conventions in the title (that is, I would favor Escherichia coli over Escherichia Coli in the title). That would yield this result:

Blah Blah Blah Blah Escherichia coli Blah Blah

In scientific journals, it is quite common to render titles of articles and papers in sentence style, which gives you a third option and a third issue to resolve: cap Escherichia or lowercase it? Since the genus name appears in scientific names as if it were a proper noun, it makes sense to me to capitalize it even in a sentence-case setting:

Blah blah blah blah Escherichia coli blah blah

Regrettably, I couldn't dig up a discussion of this particular issue in the style guides I consulted, although it must come up now and then. The closest thing to a relevant suggestion that I could find was this tangentially related item from The Chicago Manual of Style, fifteenth edition (2003):

17.157 Italics and quotation marks within article titles. Book titles and other normally italicized terms remain italicized within an article title. ...

[Relevant example:] Connell, A. D., and D. D. Alrey. 1982. The chronic effects of fluoride on the estuarine amphipods Grandidierella lutosa and G. lignorum. Water Research 16: 1313–17.

This example (which appears in a discussion of how to present a journal article in documentation) makes clear that, under Chicago style, scientific names are italicized in otherwise nonitalicized titles, and that the genus name remains initial-capped in a sentence-style title. In other respects, however, the example doesn't help much with the particular questions you raise.

  • Hello, Sven Yargs. I've searched for an answer to this question and I've found this link that says that one should never capitalise names of organisms in titles or headings. I asked two worldwide recognised microbiologists: Alan Bull and Michel Goodfellow and they told me that a correct way of writing names of organisms in headings is as in option B: that's is the norm and scientifically correct. In my thesis title, I decided to go for option B. Thanks. – user2292533 Nov 28 '15 at 21:45
  • @user2292533: Your comment contains useful information for future readers who may have the same question you did. I recommend that you copy your comment here and paste it into your original question as a followup paragraph. Comments tend to disappear unexpectedly and without fanfare, but questions and answers (even closed ones) do not, as long as they aren't deleted. I appreciate your having done further research on your own to obtain more-accurate information about how things are done in the field of microbiology. +1 to your question for your extra effort—and success—in this regard. – Sven Yargs Nov 29 '15 at 6:16
  • Sorry about the edit. I hadn't realized that the OP was writing the thesis title in block capitals, which I think is odd. Maybe you want to rollback the edit or modify the examples. (they are fewer BLAHS) – Mari-Lou A Nov 30 '15 at 13:43
  • That's OK. I know that it is a bit odd that the title is written is capitals, but it's the format that I've been told to use. I agree with your edit, but I deleted the italics in the BLAHs because that will convert my question in something that I did not want to ask. – user2292533 Nov 30 '15 at 15:19

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