When should you capitalize titles?

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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When Should You Capitalize Titles?

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.

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
See also:  How to write an analytical essay: 4 easy steps

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)

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

When Should You Capitalize Titles?

Last week we talked about capitalizing words in the business world. Today we're going to talk about capitalization in general.

If you recall, in English, we capitalize proper nouns—words that name a specific thing or person, words such as “Richard” and “Helen”—and we lowercase words that are common nouns that could be used to describe general things—words such as “boy” and “girl.”

We also have common adjectives and proper adjectives that follow similar rules.


Let’s start with what we call honorifics – “doctor,” “professor,” and “dean” are honorifics you might find on an academic campus. Then we have “mister,” “judge,” “deacon,” “sergeant,” and so on. Some of those are professional designations; others are courtesy titles. When they directly precede a name, honorifics should be capitalized.

For example, when we write Judge Joseph Smith or Deacon Fred Rutherford, we capitalize “judge” and “deacon” because they are honorifics that come before the name. Some also get abbreviated: Prof. Irwin Corey, Dr. Marcus Welby, and Sgt. Joe Friday.

“Mr.” and “Ms.,” of course, are uppercase before a name. “Mrs.,” which is less commonly used than it was several decades ago and which derives from the honorific “Mistress,” is also capitalized before a name. Same goes for “Miss,” which is usually reserved for a younger girl. A boy takes “Master” (if anything) before his name. (It's a little antiquated, but still kind of cute.)

In cases where these words stand alone, even in direct address, they are lowercase. “Hey, mister, look out for that pelican!” “Gee, doctor, it hurts when I stick out my tongue.” [Note: Neither Chicago nor AP make this exception for direct address. See our article about capitalizing nicknames and terms of endearment for more information.]

Back to School

As you're heading back to the classroom, there are plenty of other capitalization questions. For example, Russ G. from Iowa recently sent in an e-mail message asking whether he should capitalize the name of his grade. “Is 'grade' in 'sixth grade' capitalized?” he asked. “I see both ways … example: sixth-grade Science.”

Russ doesn’t see it both ways because he's cross-eyed, he sees it both ways because sometimes “sixth grade” should be capitalized and sometimes it shouldn't. Let's think about common adjectives and proper adjectives.


When Should You Capitalize Job Titles? (With Tips and Examples) | Indeed.com

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When creating professional materials, there may be instances where you need to include your job title or address someone else by theirs.

You should capitalize job titles correctly to ensure you're being respectful to the person you're addressing and to show professionalism when mentioning your own role.

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This is why it's best to be knowledgeable about AP style guidelines and grammar rules.

In this article, we discuss the importance of capitalizing job titles correctly, with tips and examples to help you properly capitalize job titles in your own documents.

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There are certain instances in which a job title should be capitalized. This can be on resumes, cover letters, emails or other professional documents.

Capitalizing a certain job title can depend on the writing style of the piece you're creating, proper grammatical rules and style guidelines.

There are also times when you should capitalize someone's job title to remain professional and respectful to the person you're addressing.

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As you list a job title in your professional document, you should first analyze how you're using the job title. The decision to capitalize a job title can vary depending on its placement and how you intend to use it.

Here are the instances in which you should capitalize job titles:

  • Before a name
  • In your signature
  • As a resume heading
  • Mentioning job titles in a cover letter

What Do You Capitalize in Titles?

By Geraldine Woods

How do you decide what to capitalize in the title of your book or research paper? Well, you have to be able to recognize verbs and nouns when you see them, but even so, the English rules about using capital letters in titles are not difficult to follow.

In this example, Lochness is hosting a party to celebrate the publication of his new book, I AM NOT A MONSTER.

He has postponed the party three times because he can’t decide how to capitalize the title.

What should he do? Actually, he should scrap the book, which consists of 540 pages of unbelievably boring detail about his humdrum life. Apart from that issue, here’s what Lochness should do:

  • Capitalize I and Monster. I is always uppercase and Monster is an important word. Also, I is the first word of the title, and the first word of the title is always capitalized.
  • Capitalize Am because it’s a verb, and verbs are at the heart of the title’s meaning.
  • Capitalize Not because it changes the meaning of the verb and thus has an important job to do in the sentence.
  • Lowercase the only word left — a. Never capitalize articles (a, an, and the) unless they’re the first words in the title.

Do you see the general principles? Here is a summary of the rules for all sorts of titles:

  • Capitalize the first word in the title.
  • Capitalize verbs and other important words.
  • Lowercase unimportant words, such as articles (a, an, the), conjunctions (words that connect, such as and, or, nor


At first glance, the rules of English capitalization seem simple. You probably know you should capitalize proper nouns and the first word of every sentence. But you also (sometimes) capitalize the first word of a quote. Usually you don’t capitalize after a colon, but there are exceptions. And what do you do when you’re not sure whether something is a proper noun?

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English Capitalization Rules:

1 Capitalize the First Word of a Sentence

This one’s easy. Always capitalize the first word of a sentence.

Where did I put that book?

Hey! It’s great to see you! How have you been?

  • 2 Capitalize Names and Other Proper Nouns
  • You should always capitalize people’s names.

My favorite author is Jane Austen.

Tom and Diane met at Judy’s house.

Have you met my dog, Boomer?

Names are proper nouns. The names of cities, countries, companies, religions, and political parties are also proper nouns, so you should capitalize them, too.

We experienced some beautiful Southern California weather last fall when we attended a Catholic wedding in San Diego.

Which Words Should You Capitalize In A Title?

Titles can be confusing—either due to length (we’re looking at you, Baz Luhrmann’s William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet), punctuation (Leprechaun: Back 2 Tha Hood), or content (sigh, 2002’s Mr. Mom). But, titles can also stump readers and writers across the board due to title case—conventions of which words in a sentence start with capital letters.

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Have no fear: We’ll walk you through the steps, one at a time, using some of our favorite ridiculous movie titles as examples. That way, you can apply the movie titles’ rules to songs, academic papers, and even PowerPoint headings to determine when to use title case.

1. Make sure the phrase you’re working with is actually a title

According to APA, the following are titles that should be in title case:

  • Titles of works (books, movies, articles, songs, magazines)
  • Titles of academic tests or papers
  • Headings

Anything that doesn’t fall into one of those categories should be in sentence case—and if the name didn’t tip you off, that’s the opposite of title case. In sentence case, the only thing that should be capitalized is the sentence’s first word and any proper nouns.

2. Capitalize the first word in a title

So, in the title The Perks of Being a Wallflower, make sure to capitalize The—it’s the very first word, and its capitalization tips off the reader that, hey, the title’s officially starting.

3. Capitalize all major words in a title

How do we define a “major word”? Good question. A “major word” is a subject, noun, adjective, or verb—basically, any word whose meaning impacts the sentence and isn’t a short little conjunction or preposition.

In the title Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead, “Tell,” “Mom,” “Babysitter,” and “Dead” are all major words—they’re verbs (tell), nouns (mom, babysitter), and adjectives (dead describes the babysitter), and they all very much impact the sentence’s meaning. Because of that, they should all be in title case.

4. While you’re at it, capitalize every word that is four letters or longer

APA uses a a measuring stick for title case: If a word is longer than four letters, it automatically becomes “major.

” So, even if the title of Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead was I Can’t Believe You Didn’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead, didn’t (and can’t) would still be capitalized, even though they’re not as major as tell or dead—they’re four letters or longer, so they also go in title case.

5. Do a final skim for tricky punctuation that might change the rules of title case

The English language—and its titles—are rarely simple. They’re often broken up by punctuation. Titles, in particular, often feature colons. Check out the following movie titles featuring colons:

  • Strangelove: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb
  • Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World
  • Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me

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.

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