How do I shorten a long title?

Note: This post relates to content in the eighth edition of the MLA Handbook. For up-to-date guidance, see the ninth edition of the MLA Handbook.

Extremely long titles and conventional titles usually condensed may be shortened in your prose and in your works-cited list.   

Extremely Long Titles

Some works, particularly older ones, have very long titles, such as this treatise by the seventeenth-century English physician John Bulwer:

Philocophus; or, The Deafe and Dumbe Mans Friend, Exhibiting the Philosophical Verity of That Subtile Art, Which May Enable One with an Observant Eie to Have What Any Man Speaks by the Moving of His Lips

To shorten the title of a long work in your writing or in your works-cited-list entry, include the beginning words of the title up to at least the first noun. Thus, Bulwer’s title can be shortened to


If, however, a work has an alternative title, as does Bulwer’s, it may be beneficial to include it—again, up to the first noun:

Philocophus; or, The Deafe and Dumbe Mans Friend

In some cases, shortening to the first noun in a works-cited-list entry will result in a title that is too vague. For example, the following title

Some Thoughts concerning the Present Revival of Religion in New-England, and the Way in Which It Ought to Be Acknowledged and Promoted, Humbly Offered to the Publick, in a Treatise on That Subject, in Five Parts

is best shortened to

Some Thoughts concerning the Present Revival of Religion in New-England

instead of

Some Thoughts

In your prose, after you refer to the works by the titles used in the works-cited list, it is acceptable to use Philocophus and Some Thoughts on subsequent mention.

Punctuation with Shortened Titles

In the works-cited-list entry, add an ellipsis after the first part of the title. If a period is needed, insert the period before the ellipsis.

Bulwer, John. Philocophus; or, The Deafe and Dumbe Mans Friend. . . .     Humphrey Mosely, 1648.

If a comma is needed, as it would be when the long title is the title of a container, insert it after the ellipsis:

Smith, Ann. Introduction. Philocophus; or, The Deafe and Dumbe Mans Friend . . . , Humphrey Mosely, 1648, pp. x-xxi.

Conventional Titles

Some titles may be known by their short forms. For example, let’s say an edition of Shakespeare’s works prints the following title:

The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark

It can be shortened in your works-cited-list entry and prose thus: