Title capitalization rules

There are three main options for capitalizing chapter and section headings within your dissertation: capitalizing all significant words, capitalizing only the first word, and a combination of the two.

First, you can capitalize every significant word.

Option 1: All significant words capitalized
Chapter 3 Literature Review
Section 3.1 History of Coffee Drinking
Section 3.2 Emerging Coffee Markets in North America Section 3.2.1 High School and College StudentsSection 3.2.2 Commuting Workers
Section 3.3 Competitors in the Hot Beverage Sector

The list of what is considered significant is quite long; it generally includes all nouns, pronouns, adjectives, verbs, and adverbs.

You may find it easier to instead focus on what usually isn’t considered significant (and thus not capitalized, unless it happens to be the first word in a heading): articles (a, an, the), prepositions (examples: by, for, in), conjunctions (examples: and, or, because).

Option 2: Only first words capitalized
Chapter 3 Literature review
Section 3.1 A history of coffee drinking
Section 3.2 Emerging coffee markets in North America Section 3.2.1 High school and college studentsSection 3.2.2 Commuting workers
Section 3.3 Competitors in the hot beverage sector

Finally, the third possibility is to use a combination of the other two options. For instance, you could use option 1 for the chapter headings and option 2 for lower level headings.

Option 3: Capitalization varies by level
Chapter 3 Literature Review (level 1)
Section 3.1 A history of coffee drinking (level 2)
Section 3.2 Emerging coffee markets in North America Section 3.2.1 High school and college students (level 3) Section 3.2.2 Commuting workers
Section 3.3 Competitors in the hot beverage sector

Capitalize proper nouns (names) no matter what

Formal names of people, organizations, and places are capitalized no matter what style you use. For instance, North America is capitalized throughout the above examples.

In this regard, note that specific models, theories, and schools of thoughts are not considered proper nouns. The only component that needs to be capitalized is the scholar’s name, when relevant.

  • Porter’s Five Forces Model
  • Einstein’s Theory of Relativity
  • the Realist school
  • Porter’s five forces model
  • Einstein’s theory of relativity
  • the realist school

Which option should you choose? If you are following the APA style, the rules are clear. Essentially, you should capitalize all significant words in level 1 and 2 headings and only the first word starting from level 3. MLA also has specific requirements for formatting headings.

If you are free to decide, we recommend option 1 or 2. Why? One reason is that it’s easier, you just won’t have to make so many judgment calls about what to capitalize. A second is that using a lot of capital letters may make the text difficult to follow, especially in longer headings.

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Title Capitalization Rules

Consistency, consistency, consistency

Whatever option you choose, the most important thing is to use effective headings that are capitalized consistently throughout your entire document.

This applies not only to the main chapters of your dissertation, but also to any supporting materials that come before and after (including the abstract, table of contents, lists of tables/figures, acknowledgements, reference list, and appendixes).

To make sure that no inconsistencies have snuck through, take a very careful look at your table of contents. Seeing all of the headings together will make any anomalies very apparent. This is especially true if you have used Microsoft Word to automatically generate this list.

Also take care that other aspects of your dissertation layout and formatting are consistent in relation to headings.

How To Correctly Use AP (and APA) Style Title Case

Title Capitalization Rules

After spending time and energy coming up with the perfect title for your article or blog post, do you really want to take even more time debating how to format it correctly? When writing for an internet audience, using a standardized title case can help you avoid criticism and confusion. AP style title case has a few easy rules that will help showcase your title. (Note: These rules are the exact same for APA style, the only difference being that AP style does not recommend the use of title case for newspaper headlines, but rather sentence case.) To master AP title case, learn the rules below. If you want a simple cheat sheet to have at your side, feel free to download the “Rules of AP Title Case” infographic we’ve created at the bottom of the page.

Capitalize the Principal Words

The principal words of a title include the first and last words of that title, which you should always capitalize. You should also capitalize all verbs (including infinitives), nouns, pronouns, adjectives, adverbs and some conjunctions. Finally, capitalize every word that is more than three letters long.

  • Examples:
  •  Creating the Perfect Centerpiece for Your Party   Increase Curb Appeal With New Shutters How To Look For a Paid Internship 
  • In the last example, note that the entire verb phrase “to look for” is capitalized.
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What Not To Capitalize

Don’t capitalize articles, prepositions or conjunctions that have fewer than four letters. That leaves a pretty short list of words that often aren’t capitalized*:

a for so
an in the
and nor to
at of up
but on yet
by or

*Remember to focus on how a word functions in the title to determine if it should be capitalized. For example, “yet” should be capitalized while acting as an adverb, but lowercase while acting as a conjunction. 

Pay Special Attention to Prepositions

Capitalization of a Title

Capitalization of a title can be trickier than you might originally think, because the rules can change a bit depending on what style guide you’re using.

The big three style guides are the Associated Press, often called AP for short, Chicago Manual of Style, and MLA.

You might be required to use a specific style in a certain setting or institution, so if you’re writing something important (say like a college thesis) always be sure to check.

The good news is that all three styles agree on some basics, which we’ll cover here in three easy rules.

Rule 1: In any title, such as the title of a book, song, or movie, the first and last word are always capitalized. So in the movie title “Night at the Museum” both “Night” and “Museum” are capitalized.

Rule 2: In each style you should capitalize nouns, verbs, pronouns, adjectives, and adverbs.

So for the movie “I Walk the Line” you’d capitalize “Walk” because it’s a verb, and in the movie “Drive, He Said,” you’d capitalize “He” because it’s a pronoun. Similarly, in the children’s book “The Grouchy Ladybug” you’d capitalize “Grouchy” because it’s an adjective.

Rule 3 : For all three styles, you DON’T capitalize articles, prepositions of less than five letters, or coordinating conjunctions of less than five letters unless they are the first word in the title.

Some examples would be the movie title “Good Night, and Good Luck” where the conjunction “and” is left lowercase, and the song title “Angel of the Morning,” where “of” is the lowercase preposition and “the” is the lowercase article. However, in the movie title “An Affair to Remember” the word “An” is capitalized because it is the first word of the title.

If you follow these rules you’ll be in pretty good shape, but remember to always double check if there are specific style guide requirements for your assignment. Happy writing!


Title Capitalization Rules

APA Style 6th Edition Blog: Title Case and Sentence Case Capitalization in APA Style

by Chelsea Lee

APA Style has two capitalization methods that are used in different contexts throughout a paper: title case and sentence case (see Publication Manual section 4.15).

APA’s title case refers to a capitalization style in which most words are capitalized, and sentence case refers to a capitalization style in which most words are lowercased.

In both cases, proper nouns and certain other types of words are always capitalized. Below are guidelines for when and how to use each case in an APA Style paper.

Title Case

Title case is used to capitalize the following types of titles and headings in APA Style:

  • Titles of references (e.g., book titles, article titles) when they appear in the text of a paper,
  • Titles of inventories or tests,
  • Headings at Levels 1 and 2,
  • The title of your own paper and of named sections within it (e.g., the Discussion section), and
  • Titles of periodicals—journals, magazines, or newspapers—which are also italicized (e.g., Journal of Counseling Psychology, The New York Times).

Here are directions for implementing APA’s title case:

  1. Capitalize the first word of the title/heading and of any subtitle/subheading;
  2. Capitalize all “major” words (nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, and pronouns) in the title/heading, including the second part of hyphenated major words (e.g., Self-Report not Self-report); and
  3. Capitalize all words of four letters or more.

Common Title Capitalization Rules

If you familiarize yourself with common title capitalization rules, it will be easier to write articles, papers, and other pieces. Although the capitalization of words in titles can sometimes depend on the particular style of a writer, institution, or publication, there are some general rules to keep in mind.

The rules for capitalization in titles of articles, books, papers, speeches, and other documents can vary according to a particular style guide, such as The Associated Press Stylebook, The Chicago Manual of Style, and MLA Handbook. However, no matter what style guide you use, these rules usually hold true.

Capitalize the First and Last Word

In all three styles, always capitalize the first and last word of any title. These examples will help:

  • How to Land Your Dream Job
  • Of Mice and Men
  • The Cat in the Hat

Capitalize Nouns and Pronouns

You should capitalize nouns and pronouns in titles in all three styles. This includes proper nouns. You can see this rule in action in these examples:

  • Visiting Beautiful Ruins (noun)
  • As She Ran Away (pronoun)
  • Little House on the Prairie (nouns)
  • For Whom the Bell Tolls (pronoun)
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Capitalize Verbs and Helping Verbs

No matter which style you are using, you'll also need to capitalize verbs. This includes helping verbs and variations on the verb “to be.” These examples will help:

  • To Kill a Mockingbird (verb)
  • The Sun Also Rises (verb)
  • Their Eyes Were Watching God (helping verb and verb)
  • Tender Is the Night (verb)

Capitalize Adjectives and Adverbs

You should also capitalize adjectives and adverbs in all three styles. You can see this rule in action here:

  • All Quiet on the Western Front (adjectives)
  • The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle (adjective)
  • She Quietly Waits (adverb)
  • The Poky Little Puppy (adjectives)

Do Not Capitalize Short Prepositions

Each style has its own rules for how long a preposition needs to be if you're going to capitalize it in a title. However, no matter which style you're using, prepositions of three letters or fewer are lowercase unless they are the first or last word in the title. These examples will show you:

  • One Year in Paris
  • The Book of Disquiet
  • A House for Mr. Biswas

Do Not Capitalize Articles

In all three styles, you should not capitalize articles in the title unless they are the first or last word in the title. Articles include “the,” “a,” and “an,” as you can see here:

  • Through the Looking Glass
  • The Portrait of a Lady
  • The Sense of an Ending

Do Not Capitalize Short Coordinating Conjunctions

Title Case Capitalization

APA Style uses two types of capitalization for titles of works (such as paper titles) and headings within works: title case and sentence case.

In title case, major words are capitalized, and most minor words are lowercase. In sentence case, most major and minor words are lowercase (proper nouns are an exception in that they are always capitalized).

  • major words: Nouns, verbs (including linking verbs), adjectives, adverbs, pronouns, and all words of four letters or more are considered major words.
  • minor words: Short (i.e., three letters or fewer) conjunctions, short prepositions, and all articles are considered minor words.

In title case, capitalize the following words in a title or heading:

  • the first word of the title or heading, even if it is a minor word such as “The” or “A”
  • the first word of a subtitle
  • the first word after a colon, em dash, or end punctuation in a heading
  • major words, including the second part of hyphenated major words (e.g., “Self-Report,” not “Self-report”)
  • words of four letters or more (e.g., “With,” “Between,” “From”)

Lowercase only minor words that are three letters or fewer in a title or heading (except the first word in a title or subtitle or the first word after a colon, em dash, or end punctuation in a heading):

  • short conjunctions (e.g., “and,” “as,” “but,” “for,” “if,” “nor,” “or,” “so,” “yet”)
  • articles (“a,” “an,” “the”)
  • short prepositions (e.g., “as,” “at,” “by,” “for,” “in,” “of,” “off,” “on,” “per,” “to,” “up,” “via”)

Use title case for the following:

  • titles of articles, books, reports, and other works appearing in text

In the book Train Your Mind for Peak Performance: A Science-Based Approach for Achieving Your Goals

In the article “Turning Frowns (and Smiles) Upside Down: A Multilevel Examination of Surface Acting Positive and Negative Emotions on Well-Being”

  • titles of tests or measures, including subscales

Beck Depression Inventory–II 

  • titles of periodicals (these are also italicized)

Journal of Latinx Psychology

Chicago Tribune

Title Case Converter – A Smart Title Capitalization Tool

Title case is a style that is traditionally used for the titles of books, movies, songs, plays, and other works. In title case, all major words are capitalized, while minor words are lowercased. A simple example would be Lord of the Flies. Title case is often used for headlines as well, for example, in newspapers, essays, and blogs, and is therefore also known as headline style.

The capitalization rules are explained in more detail in the next section, but essentially title case means to capitalize every word except articles (a, an, the), coordinating conjunctions (and, or, but, …) and (short) prepositions (in, on, for, up, …). This might seem simple, almost trivial, but actually it isn’t.

What’s tricky is that many words can be used in different grammatical functions. For example, in Lay It All on Me, “on” is a preposition and must be lowercased, but it is used as an adjective in It’s On Again and as an adverb in I Could Go On Singing, so it must be capitalized in both cases.

Here are some more examples:

  • in: The Catcher in the Rye, but Give In to Me (adverb)
  • out: Fresh out the Oven, but School’s Out Forever (adjective)
  • up: Crawling up a Hill, but Picking Up the Pieces (adverb)
  • but: Nothing but the Truth, but Life Is But a Dream (adverb)
  • a: Let’s Make a Deal, but The A to Z of TV Gardening (noun)
  • by: Stand by Me, but Stand By for Action (adverb)

These examples show that the approach to always lowercase in, on, by, etc., is inadequate and often leads to wrong results. This title capitalization tool therefore uses more sophisticated methods to capitalize your titles, and takes the context of each word into account. This produces high-quality results, and all the examples mentioned above are handled correctly.

See also:  Proofreading tips

The following section provides an overview of the title case rules. Additional information can be found on the dedicated pages Title Capitalization Rules and Words to Capitalize in a Title.

Title case is not a universal standard. Instead, there are a number of style guides—for example, the Chicago Manual of Style (CMOS) and the MLA Handbook—which each have individual rules for the capitalization of titles. However, there is a consensus about the basic rules:

  1. Always capitalize the first word of a title
  2. Always capitalize the last word of a title (exception: not in APA style)
  3. Capitalize the following parts of speech:
    • nouns
    • pronouns (including it, my, and our )
    • verbs (including is, am, and other forms of to be )
    • adverbs
    • adjectives
    • subordinating conjunctions (exception: the New York Times lowercases if )
    • long prepositions (style-dependent)
  4. Lowercase the following parts of speech:
    • articles
    • coordinating conjunctions
    • short prepositions (style-dependent)
    • to as part of an infinitive

Capitalization: The Major Words in The Titles Of Books, Articles, and Songs

According to most style guides, nouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs are the only words capitalized in titles of books, articles, and songs. Prepositions, articles, and conjunctions aren’t capitalized (unless they’re the first word). The example below illustrates this rule:

Shakespeare wrote Romeo and Juliet.

Shakespeare wrote Romeo And Juliet.

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  • The and in Romeo and Juliet should not be capitalized because it is a conjunction. Consider these additional examples of correctly capitalized titles:

East of Eden was a popular book by John Steinbeck.

“The Facts behind the Helsinki Roccamatios” is the first short story in the collection.

The first movie of the series is Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.

The sitcom Two and a Half Men explores the lives of two brothers.

  1. The same rule regarding title capitalization applies to subtitles. See the examples below:

The Assassin’s Cloak: An Anthology of the World’s Greatest Diarists

Virginia Woolf wrote Orlando: A Biography.

In this particular example, the article “a” is capitalized because it is the first word of the subtitle.

Which Words to Capitalize in Titles?

Elsewhere on this site we have addressed two other issues involving capitalization: knowing when to capitalize people’s positions and job titles and recognizing when a noun is common, not proper, and therefore should not be capitalized. This article focuses on knowing which words to capitalize in titles.

If we are following the guidelines of most style books, these three titles would contain capitalization errors. Do you know which words to capitalize in these titles?

  1. A New Approach to Marketing on The Internet
  2. How To Promote Your Small Business In Five Easy Steps
  3. Everything You Always Wanted to Know about Titles But Were Afraid to Ask

Which Words Should Not Be Capitalized

The guidelines are fairly consistent from one style book to another* when determining which words to capitalize in a title: unless they are the first or the last words in a title, do not capitalize the first letters of

  • articles (a, an, the),
  • prepositions (regardless of their length),
  • coordinating conjunctions (and, but, or, nor, for, so, yet), and
  • the word “to” that marks infinitives (to walk, to run, to play, etc.).

In sentence 1, the article the should not be capitalized. Notice that the prepositions to and on are correctly lower cased.

In sentence 2, the infinitive marker to and the preposition in should not be capitalized.

Sentence 3 incorrectly capitalizes the conjunction but. The preposition about and the infinitive marker to (to ask), however, are correctly lower cased.

Style Books Differ on the Issue of Which Words to Capitalize in Titles

Some style books used to advocate capitalizing longer prepositions. But both the Modern Language Association Manual of Style and the Chicago Manual of Style prefer that all prepositions be lower cased, including longer ones such as between, among, and throughout.

*While these guidelines hold true in most writing situations, keep in mind that some style manuals advocate a different style for capitalization in bibliographical entries. Writers using the American Psychological Association’s style manual, for example, capitalize only the first word and all proper nouns in titles.

TEST YOURSELF

Can you spot any errors in the capitalization of words in these titles?

  1. Get it Write
  2. Six Tips For Writing Better Business Letters And Memos
  3. How To Travel Around Europe On A Budget

ANSWERS

  1. Get It Write (The first letter of pronouns should be capitalized.)
  2. Six Tips for Writing Better Business Letters and Memos
  3. How to Travel around Europe on a Budget

Copyright 2002 Get It Write. Revised 2020.

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