Capitalizing titles is confusing. In this photo you see a bunch of posted question marks on a desktop, with a laptop and a coffee.

Capitalizing Titles: How To Navigate Conflicting Rules And Make Sensible Choices

There are a ridiculous number of rules when it comes to capitalizing titles. Every major style guide has its own recommendations. So far as I can tell, the only thing they all agree on is that the first word in a sentence should be capitalized!

As a content writer, I’ve spent a maddening amount of time debating whether to write “To” or “to” in a title. And no matter what choice is made, it’s wrong according to at least one style guide.

At some point, you just need to pick a path and follow it.

So what are the most common ways of capitalizing titles?

Here are the three most common ways you’ll see titles capitalized:

  • Sentence Style
  • Major Words Only
  • Every Word Capitalized

Sentence style is fairly simple. You write the title as though it’s an ordinary sentence. Capitalize the first letter of the first word and any words that would normally be capitalized (like someone’s name). The rest of the words stay lowercase.

The Associated Press uses sentence style so you commonly see it on news sites. As examples, check out CBC News and BBC News.

A more complicated choice is to only capitalize the major words. This starts by picking one particular style guide. Then you must follow ALL of the rules, exceptions, and persnickety details about what constitutes a major word. Following a style guide is common in academic writing and formal writing, like white papers.

If you don’t feel like memorizing all those rules, exceptions, and details, here’s an easy way to make sure you get it right! There’s an app called Capitalize My Title. Just pop your title in the box and click to view how various style guides would capitalize it. It includes APA, Chicago, NYT, and more.

Personally, unless I’m writing something that has to follow a prescribed style guide, I choose to capitalize every word. It’s simple. And I think it looks nice in situations where several titles share a single page. Check out my blog page to see what I’m talking about.

Buzzfeed and Huffington Post are examples of sites that do it this way.

What are the biggest dos and don’ts?

Regardless of what style you choose, the biggest DO is to be consistent within a specific publication or website. Readers notice inconsistency – and they don’t like it.

The biggest DON’T is to ignore a prescribed style guide. For instance, if you’re writing for a business blog, using sentence style, or capitalizing every letter, is probably fine. But if you’re writing academic content, you diminish the work if you fail to follow the correct rules.

And my personal pet peeve is when every letter is capitalized. WRITING AN ENTIRE TITLE IN CAPITAL LETTERS IS OBNOXIOUS. Don’t do it.

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Kim Scaravelli

Kim Scaravelli

Kim Scaravelli is a brand voice coach, writer, and author Making Words Work. She lives in Halifax, Nova Scotia, with her unruly family, a sweet dog named Stevie, and a sarcastic cat named Winnie.