Usage and Grammar
Q. Many of our news blurbs contain conference and presentation titles. Folks here, including the head of the organization, insist on constructing sentences with titles thus: “He gave a presentation on ‘Planetary Boundaries and Peacebuilding’ in a parallel session of the conference.” I have explained that this must be recast, either omitting the preposition and adding commas (gave a presentation, “Planetary Boundaries”) or retaining the preposition and translating the title into lowercase (gave a presentation on planetary boundaries and peacebuilding). But everyone here ignores my suggestion. My understanding is that it is a non-negotiable grammatical error, but the error is so widespread, at least in science circles, that I’m beginning to wonder now if it is permissible in other style guides. Is there anything you can tell me to bolster my case?
A. There are some nonnegotiable grammar errors, but this is probably not one of them. The rule (CMOS 8.174) was made to prevent misunderstanding. For instance, in your original sentence, it’s not clear whether the presenter was speaking about a published article titled “Planetary Boundaries and Peacebuilding” or whether that was the title of his own talk. Much of the time, readers will know what you mean whichever way you style it. When there’s a risk of ambiguity, however, it’s worth enforcing the rule.