?: Where the colon is a subtitle separator in metadata but not above actual article.

edited April 6, 2022
This is not strictly Zotero-related but can affect Zotero users (or users of any reference management software).

I'm supposed to know cataloging and indexing rules. I'd like to think that I have sufficient abilities to refer to style guides to get the help I need.

However, I've encountered a problem the recently occurred a third time over the past few years.

A student cites a journal article with a title and a subtitle. The title ends with a question mark. The subtitle is a simple phrase. On the printed page, the subtitle is distinguished by appearing on a new line. However, the metadata that is supplied to databases such as PubMed includes a colon after the question mark to indicate the subtitle. That colon is accurately included with the imported title.

Students' inclusion of the colon in a citation (when not actually on the printed or PDF) version has led to a lower grade on their term paper. This has happened at two different universities in my city. I became involved because I taught seminars about the value of using Zotero over MS Word's built-in referencing utility. I'm frustrated by my fruitless attempts to intercede in one case where there were no negative comments on the quality of the text of the report but only on the reference list (Vancouver style).

I'm well-acquainted with professors who have eccentric ideas about citation styles. One octogenarian at my university insists on APA-4 (!) and will not allow any citations to electronic sources. This is not quite that. The three faculty members are each half my age.

  • I’ve never encountered data where a colon was inserted into data like this. That would seem to be something the database should fix?
  • edited April 6, 2022
    The question really is should this be fixed? The "?:" is sometimes used in the actual published item title.

    Stand by, I'll find an example of a PubMed database record.
  • edited April 6, 2022
    Here is a (poor) example although the published title actually has the "?:" but the subtitle isn't on a new line.

    PMID 35373705
    DOI: 10.1080/09602011.2022.2057552

    I'll give an example where there is dissonance the next time I find an article where the subtitle is on a new line but is indicated in metadata with the colon after the question mark.

    PubMed will not allow a title search with only those punctuation marks.
  • As you know, I think lowering grades for incorrect citation details is an admission of pedagogical and intellectual bankruptcy, but as a matter of style, I think the faculty here are likely right: regardless of cataloging rules (which also have a space before the colon as a subtitle delimiter, say), there should not be a colon after a question mark in English in general (I think your example is just bad copyedit) and should definitely not be produced due to a subtitle delimiter. MLA e.g. has "Use a colon and a space to separate a title from a subtitle, unless the title ends in a question mark or an exclamation point," and other style manuals have similar provisions.
  • So maybe Zotero can automatically fix this as @ bwiernik suggested? I, for one, would be very pleased. Especially if this is something that can be universally done with a minor tweak.
  • There is a basic question here that may be answered differently depending upon the citation style standard. When I view the pdf of articles where there is a title and subtitle separated with ?:, in almost every case the colon is not in the printed title. Is it worth the scripting effort for Zotero to remove the colon? Today (last example) I found a case where the title ends with a "?" followed by a space then ":" followed by the subtitle.


    Am I being too pedantic to worry about this? Does this matter with accurately representing citation style demands for casing after a colon or a question mark. It matters a great deal to one faculty member at my university who will lower student grades for such trivial matters as this.
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