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Title Of Essay Capitalization

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 Manualsection 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.

This boils down to using lowercase only for “minor” words of three letters or fewer, namely, for conjunctions (words like and, or, nor, and but), articles (the words a, an, and the), and prepositions (words like as, at, by, for, in, of, on, per, and to), as long as they aren’t the first word in a title or subtitle. You can see examples of title case in our post on reference titles.

Sentence Case

Sentence case, on the other hand, is a capitalization style that mainly uses lowercase letters. Sentence case is used in a few different contexts in APA Style, including for the following:

Here are directions for implementing sentence case in APA Style in these two contexts:

  1. Capitalize the first word of the title/heading and of any subtitle/subheading;
  2. Capitalize any proper nouns and certain other types of words; and
  3. Use lowercase for everything else.

Additionally, as you might suspect given its name, sentence case is used in regular sentences in the text of a paper. In a typical sentence, the first word is always capitalized, and the first word after a colon is also capitalized when what follows the colon is an independent clause.

You can see examples of sentence case in our reference titles post. 

More Posts on Capitalization

You are likely here because you need a headline checker to make sure your title and headlines are properly written. That's exactly what Headline Capitalization does. It's a free tool to make sure what you capitalize online for publications like blogs and news articles, or for academic papers, is correct. This headline checker should help you to correctly format all your titles in the future. It's important to accurately capitalize titles and headlines for articles and papers. Headline Capitalization is a free headline checker that correctly capitalizes titles for all your writing.

Article Title and Headline Capitalization Rules

When it comes to creating headlines and titles for articles, it can get confusing what words to capitalize and what words should remain lower case. There are several styles of title and headline capitalization which different publications may use. For the most part, there are general rules that all publications follow with a few minor deviations between them. For those who write, it's important to understand these rules about which words to capitalize when creating headlines and titles.

Major Headline Capitalization Styles

There are four major title capitalization styles. These are:
  • AP Style
  • APA Style
  • Chicago Style
  • MLA Style
There is no single authoritative style guide when it comes to capitalizing headlines and titles, although some are used for certain types of writing. For example, the Associated Press Stylebook (AP Style) is often used by news organizations, the Chicago Manual of Style (Chicago Style) is more comprehensive for in-depth writing, and the MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers (MLA style) is used for academic papers. While this is where the different styles are usually used, it's not mandatory to use a particular style for a particular type of writing. If you are unsure of which style to use, the best method is to seek out which style the course, editor, or teacher prefers so that you know, and then use that specific style. If you're in a certain field, you should learn the style that's most prominent in your field. For example, the AP Style for those in journalism, and the MLA style if you're in academics. In all cases, it's best to ask for each project to make sure since each style has its own rules.

General Headline Style Rule: Title Case

How to write headlines and titles is usually referred to as "headline style" or "title case." As mentioned, all styles are not the same, but there are a few general rules they all follow. These are:
  • Capitalize the first word in the title
  • Capitalize the last word in the title
  • Capitalize the important words in the title
The first two points are clear cut and easy to follow. The next question is, what are considered "important" words in a headline? In most cases, they include the following words:
  • Adjectives (beautiful, large, hopeful)
  • Adverbs (forcefully, silently, hurriedly)
  • Nouns (computer, table, manuscript)
  • Pronouns (they, she, he)
  • Subordinating conjunctions (as, so, that)
  • Verbs (write, type, create)

Words in Headlines That Aren't Capitalized

The above words are the ones generally capitalized, so what words are usually written in lowercase when creating headlines and titles? These tend to be shorter words (under five letters long). The following types of words are generally not capitalized:
  • Articles (a, an, the)
  • Coordinating Conjunctions (and, but, for)
  • Short (less than 5 letters) Prepositions (at, by, from)

Alternative Headline Capitalization: Sentence Case

One style of headline and title capitalization which doesn't follow the rules is Sentence Case style. This is where editors decide to write titles as if they were a typical sentence. In this case, the first word of the headline would be capitalized while the rest of the title would be in lower case, except for proper nouns. Below are a few examples of Sentence Case style headlines:
  • How to properly write article titles
  • A review of a hike at Grand Canyon national park
  • The best value meal when eating at Chipotle

Referencing Titles of Publications

No matter what style of headline capitalization you decide to use in your writing, if you ever reference the title of a book, article, or journal, you should write the title of it as it has been written, even if it happens to be a different style than you're using for your writing. You should not change them to fit your style, and they should always be written as they appear in the publication.

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