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Trimming URLs Without Using an External Service

A man trimming a long mustache
Image created with DALL.E 3

The problem of excessively long URLs is as old as the Internet, and I remember one popular solution that I used in the early 2000s: TinyURL. Give TinyURL a long URL, and it would return a shortened URL that could be conveniently shared. I had not used TinyURL for at least 15 years and was pleasantly surprised to learn that it is still in operation. Launched in 2002, it was the one of the first URL-trimming services and is the oldest one that is still operating. I have a soft corner for TinyURL, because it reminds me of the thrilling days when the Internet was young.

URL trimmers are great for personal use, but some do not like sharing their URLs with an external service. What about professional use? Can URLs generated by URL trimmers be used in research papers and academic books? APA 7, for example, allows them, but Chicago does not. I agree with Chicago. For one thing, a TinyURL is not the direct address; it's a pointer. For another, what if the company providing the URL-trimming service shuts down?

The topic of long URLs came up recently in an ICF (Indian Copyediting Forum) discussion forum, and one member (hat tip to Anupam Chowdhury) posted the following interesting article on the subject from Chicago Manual of Style (CMoS) Shop Talk:

It came as a pleasant surprise that long URLs could be shortened without using an external service like TinyURL. I tried the CMoS method (this is the name I'm going to use here for the sake of convenience) on several long URLs that I came across in the course of my copyediting assignments, and it worked like a charm. Here are some examples:

This was trimmed to

The long URL

was trimmed to

Reference lists look much tidier with the short URLs; the difference is dramatic. I had thought long URLs were a necessary evil. It now gives me a lot of satisfaction to cut these URLs down to size.

After a little practice, I found that one should start scanning the long URL character by character from the left, stopping when a non-alphanumeric character or "pdf" occurs.

The long URL

can be trimmed to

Trial and error may be necessary in some cases. Practice your URL-trimming skills on these:







I had noticed years ago that the URLs I shared from services I subscribed to, such as Pocket, were longer than they should be, but I thought it was something one should live with. The above example is a URL from my Pocket subscription, as is evident from the "utm_source=pocket_reader" at the end of the original URL.

I now use the CMoS method to shorten URLs in almost every reference list I edit. It's probably the most useful new technique I have learned this year.


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