Title capitalization is probably the last thing on your mind when writing an article, paper, book, or anything else per se. However, it’s more important than you may think.
Capitalization can help improve readability and convey information the way you want (remember how those text messages written in all caps are hard to read and sound like the other person is yelling). It helps highlight the importance of specific words and draws readers’ attention to them. And since titles and headings get the most attention, their correct capitalization is critical.
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The Rules of Title Case
The rules of title or headline capitalization sound pretty simple – the first and the last word of the title and all the major words between them start with capital letters, and the minor words remain in lowercase.
As simple and easy title case style may sound, theoretically, it can be quite confusing in practice due to the difference in various style guides’ criteria of major and minor words. For example, the Chicago Manual of Style always treats articles and prepositions as minor words, but with APA style, you have to capitalize all words with four or more letters.
And you can’t even take the easy way out here, i.e., learn one style guide and apply it everywhere.
All these things can make a short and simple task of title formatting a confusing and frustrating job. Which title case style should you use? What words to capitalize? What words to never write with a capital letter?
If you’re also troubled by all these questions, keep reading as we (try to) simplify the rules of popular title case styles and help you determine when to use them.
6 Popular Title Case Styles and When to Use Them
Let’s look at some well-known and commonly used title case styles and discuss when and how to use them:
1. APA Style
APA, or American Psychological Style, is one of the most commonly used title case styles in academia. It’s mainly used for research papers in social and behavioral sciences.
Its title case rules are also easy enough to remember and follow. Capitalize all major words (nouns, pronouns, verbs, adjectives) in your title, as well as prepositions and conjunction with four or more letters. If your title includes a hyphenated word, capitalize both the initial letters before and after the hyphen. Lastly, the first word after a colon or dash is also capitalized when you’re following the APA style of capitalization for your title or headings.
2. The Chicago Manual of Style
If your writing falls within the domains of humanities (particularly fine arts or history) or business, you will most likely be required to follow the Chicago Manual of Style for title capitalization. It calls for capitalizing the first letters of all nouns, pronouns, verbs, adverbs, and adjectives used in the title. Moreover, it requires capitalizing conjunctions too apart from these five coordinating conjunctions – and, or, but, for, nor. Articles and prepositions are always in lowercase.
3. MLA Style
MLA is short for Modern Language Association. This is also one of the most commonly used academic writing style guides. It’s particularly common in humanities and literature and is directed towards students. That means you normally see it being used in student writings and research papers in humanities and literature.
When it comes to title capitalization, the rules of MLA style are the same as APA’s. It recommends capitalizing all major words, like nouns, pronouns, verbs, and adjectives. Articles, prepositions, and coordinating conjunctions always remain in lowercase regardless of their length unless they make the first or last word of the title.
4. AMA Style
AMA title case style is primarily used in the scientific community.
It calls for capitalizing all nouns, pronouns, verbs, adverbs, adjectives, and prepositions and conjunctions with more than four letters. Prepositions and coordinating conjunctions with four or fewer letters always remain in lowercase. For hyphenated words, capitalize the first letters of both words only when they are equal. But, only the first word is capitalized in the case of prefixes and suffixes. When using scientific names in titles, only the first word begins with a capital letter; the second one remains in lowercase. For example, Dracaena trifasciata.
5. Bluebook Style
Bluebook title case style is considered the best fit for legal writings. But, its guidelines are pretty much the same as AMA and APA’s.
When writing titles using the Bluebook title case style, you’re required to capitalize all words except coordinating conjunctions, articles, and prepositions with more than four letters. The exceptions do not apply when your title starts or ends with these words.
6. Wikipedia Style of Title Capitalization
As evident from the name, this is the style of title capitalization laid out by Wikipedia to ensure consistency throughout the platform. So, if you’re writing an article for Wikipedia, follow this title case style.
Capitalize all nouns, pronouns, verbs, adverbs, adjectives, and subordinate conjunctions in your title, as well as the first words of all prepositions with five or more letters. All other words remain in lowercase.
Consider the Guidelines and Subject Area to Choose the Best Title Case Style for Your Piece of Writing
While there are several styles of title capitalization, you don’t always have the liberty to choose on your own.
If you’re writing a piece for submission, for a newspaper, magazine, research journal, or even for a college assignment, you will most likely be told what writing style to follow. Even when you are not explicitly told, you’re expected to follow the most prevalent writing style in that industry or discipline.
Having said that, there are certain instances where you may follow any title case style that you want. Examples of these include writing for your own website or marketing materials (there isn’t any specific style for marketing content).
No matter which of these categories you fit in, this quick and simple title case styles reference guide will surely come in handy for capitalizing your titles right.
Don’t have time to manually capitalize your titles? use our title capitalization tool.