What to Capitalize in a Title

Do Your Titles Look Like a Ransom Note?

To catch your reader’s attention, you want to do everything you can to ensure your article title is perfect. In fact, why not give it a little style?

A little style, such as The Associate Press or Chicago, can go a long way in making your titles stand out. Also, using a style consistently will catch the eye of your readers and maintain your credibility.

What Titles Without Style Look Like to the Reader

Many Expert Authors will submit their articles with a title in CAPS:

WHAT’S CAPITALIZED AND WHAT’S NOT CAPITALIZED IN ARTICLE TITLES

This is the equivalent to shouting at your readers. Shouting is difficult to read and it’s often ignored as spam. Also, you don’t want your article title to look like a ransom note (seemingly random capitalization), which can be even more difficult to read:

wHAt’S CaPiTAliZED ANd wHaT’s nOt CaPiTalIzED In aRTicLE TItlEs

Of course, this last scenario is a bit extreme. However, it’s important to stress if you don’t follow stylistic capitalization rules in your title, you can potentially damage your credibility and even hurt your chances of being syndicated by publishers.

Use these title style rules based on The Associate Press (AP) style guide to help maintain your credibility, attract readers, and stay in the favorable eyes of publishers.

What’s Capitalized and What’s Not Capitalized in Article Titles

First off, for our purposes today, we will refer to capitalization in terms of using uppercase for the first letter of a word, not the entire word.

Next, here’s a trick many use to remember what isn’t capitalized in titles: CAP

  • C for (Coordinating) Conjunctions: and, but, or, yet, for, nor, so (unless the conjunction is four or more letters).
  • A for Articles: a, an, the (unless it’s the first or last word of the title).
  • P for Preposition: on, at, to, in, for, etc. (unless the preposition is four or more letters and/or it’s the first or last word of the title).

Finally, when it comes to title capitalization, there are several rules that determine whether or not you strike your shift key and then a letter:

  • Capitalize the first word and the last word of the title, even in the event it’s an article or a preposition.
  • Capitalize prepositions and (subordinating) conjunctions of four or more letters.
  • Capitalize principal words (first in order of importance or main words). These include:
    • Nouns
    • Pronouns
    • Adjectives
    • Verbs*
    • Adverbs

* “Is” is a VERB! Many authors from around the world will forget to capitalize this little verb in the title. Make a statement of style: Always capitalize “Is” in your article titles.

Try these title style guide tips to strengthen your writing skills, maintain your credibility, and attract publishers. Please note we don’t demand you follow The Associate Press style. However, it’s one of the most widely used styles both on the Internet and off. Whatever style you choose, ensure you use it consistently and start attracting positive attention!

34 Comments »


1
Online Jobs writes:

And what about highlighting some special words inside the article with bold letters?

Comment provided June 26, 2012 at 9:36 AM

[Reply]

Online –

No HTML coding is allowed in titles, therefore text cannot be in bold.

– Marc

[Reply]

2
Martin Helm writes:

How fascinating. I had no idea there were style guides for titles. You learn something new every day.

Comment provided June 26, 2012 at 9:50 AM

[Reply]

Billy Young writes:

I agree. I did not know there were guidelines on titles either.

[Reply]

3
Kat Helms writes:

Thanks for this! I always have been meaning to look up the rules for titles, but I never get around to it somehow.

The ‘Is’ rule is a helpful – it’s very easy to forget that class of verbs. We are taught that verbs are ‘action’ words, but that’s not the whole story.

Verbs are also ‘being’ words, that is, they express a state of being.

see: http://www.grammar-monster.com/lessons/verbs.htm

Comment provided June 26, 2012 at 10:03 AM

[Reply]

Gary Jacobsen writes:

What the heck does “state of being” mean? I’ve never been able to figure that out. In my opinion, all verbs fall into one of two categories: action (transitive or intransitive) and linking. The linking verbs connect a subject with a complement (usually a predicate noun or a predicate adjective). That’s it. Don’t complicate the matter by talking about “state of being.”

[Reply]

Jan Verhoeff writes:

‘state of being’ is an non-action verb. The verb isn’t active, it just is/exists. The object of the sentence doesn’t take an active part in the story, it simply exists in that ‘state’.

For instance: Joan is running. Running in this case isn’t an action she’s taking or took as in ‘Joan runs’ or ‘Joan ran’ but simply that Joan IS running – somewhere off in the world she’s not stopping in the near future. :)

[Reply]

Gary Jacobsen writes:

Thanks, Jan. However, I prefer the notion that all verbs either show action or link a subject with a complement (predicate noun or predicate adjective). “Mary is a dentist” illustrates a sentence pattern of subject-linking verb-predicate noun. The verb does more than “simply exist.” Also, I think “to be” verbs serve as important auxiliaries to action verbs when the writer wishes to express time. For example: Joan and Jan were running.

[Reply]

4
Lance Winslow writes:

I have been noticing more and more articles in major media where the titles of the articles are not captialized at all. Do you think this is a new trend which is creeping into the frey?

Comment provided June 26, 2012 at 11:36 AM

[Reply]

Kathryn writes:

This was brought to my attention recently, too, Lance.

I am the editor of an Association newsletter. One of the other newsletter subcommittee members was a journalist for a major, statewide newspaper. We had many discussions over this and, in the end, the decision was to only capitalise the first letter of the first word a title because she was so adamant that that was correct.

To make it stand out, a different font, in bold, was used.

I was always taught to capitalise the first letter of every word, except the smaller words like ‘and’, ‘in’, etc.

[Reply]

Lance Winslow writes:

Yes, Kathryn, I agree, and when I see it done that way, I always double take, as I was taught like you were, and as this posts suggests for proper capitalization – and this trend I am watching is definitely not something I like to see. In fact, often when I quote sources from other articles in my own articles, I will capitalize the title of the article I am referencing even though the newspaper, magazine, or online venue did not, because that to me is the correct way to do it. Thank you for answering my question and I suspected that it was something like this. the world is changing. I think titles should be capitalized online, since most web pages have so much going on, it’s easier to find the starting point if the article is capitalized, and the concept you mention of using bold or different fonts is one way – but to me it is incorrect. Still, if the major media is doing this and I see so many articles in the AP for instance doing it, I see the “correct” way might just be “one-way” to do it, as the future of journalism unfolds. We shall see if this trend holds, grows, or dies on the cine?

[Reply]

5
Bellaisa writes:

I just got an article from a popular website and it didn’t capitalize anything except for the names and first word which is something I don’t normally do, but I liked the way it looked!

Comment provided June 26, 2012 at 11:46 AM

[Reply]

6
Scott Buendia writes:

Thanks for this information. The acronym will be very helpful in the future. I look forward to using it in my writing and bothering your editorial staff with less crud. :)

Comment provided June 26, 2012 at 11:55 AM

[Reply]

7
David Baird writes:

Can’t agree with your “rules”.
Capitalising most of the words in a headline gives it an antiquated look.
Most newspapers these days only cap the first word and names of persons, places, organisations.

Comment provided June 26, 2012 at 11:59 AM

[Reply]

8
Randall Magwood writes:

I personally like to capitalize every word in my title, even if it’s something like “a”, “to”, “from”, “be”, “is”, or even “for”. Pet peeve of mine, and i think the readers enjoy it.

Comment provided June 26, 2012 at 1:53 PM

[Reply]

Lugene Brantley writes:

I wonder why ‘the’, ‘is’ and everything is trying to be turned into a complicated system. Okay, so some mistakes may be made. I have been an avid reader all my life and it is beginning to be turned into everyone’s way of writting this way, that way.
I have seen errors in lots of articles and material I have read, but, in the end I usually enjoy what I read. Eveyone cannot set a different way for all things. Just let us write a good article and let someone read it.
Don’t try to make it PERFECT. Let us enjoy writting and people enjoy reading.
WOW!

[Reply]

Bob Young writes:

I’ve been doing that, too, Randall, even though I learned the way being suggested by this post. I began capitalizing the first letter in every word when I discovered that Adobe InDesign CS publishing software has a feature that allows you to highlight text and choose whether you want to make it all caps, sentence, or title. If you choose title it will cap the first letter of every word.

[Reply]

9
Elmarie writes:

Thank you for a very informative article. It cleared up a few things for me. I must admit that I instinctively used to do it exactly like that but then started doubting myself since I did not know the exact rules. Now I know my instincts were right and will follow them (and your acronym) to the last capital letter.

Comment provided June 26, 2012 at 4:45 PM

[Reply]

10
Opal writes:

I learned this in high school. I am an avid reader andI pick up a lot of errors in English garmmar in the material I read. But no matter how much one proofrads, some errors are bound to slip through. Although I recognize the misspelled word or the bad sentence structure or other things, I stil enjoy the material and books I read. I just think that a good writer should know and use what is correct, just like a good speaker will not use jargon to an audience that does not understand the jargon or say “you guys” to an audience which includes women(my favorite gripe).

Comment provided June 26, 2012 at 7:17 PM

[Reply]

Gary Jacobsen writes:

You’re just poking fun, right?

[Reply]

11
Naba Krishna writes:

Thanks for all the good suggestions for Title. I often missed out the capitalization of the verb “is” in my titles. But from now on I will keep in mind.

Comment provided June 27, 2012 at 12:42 AM

[Reply]

12
Stanfod Tuition writes:

Capitalization of the titles.
Do the Search Engine likes it or not. Can anyone advise. My website was kick out to 108 pages for trying self SEO. Now on I will keep in mind.

Comment provided June 28, 2012 at 5:39 AM

[Reply]

13
tcbernardo writes:

Please give an example of a title where a preposition of four or more letters (or is the last word in the title) is capitalized. Thanks

Comment provided June 28, 2012 at 8:01 AM

[Reply]

Bernardo –

Here’s one example: “The Art of Staying Cool Under Pressure”

“Under” would be the preposition over 4 letters long.

Here’s another: “Walking a Tightrope Without Falling Off

“Off” would be the 3-letter preposition at the end of the sentence.

I hope that helps!

– Marc

[Reply]

14
BBCOR writes:

Great info. I’ve been wanting to check into how to optimize titles for a long time but never got around to it. Especially liked the ‘Is’ rule and the inclusion of verbs. Much thanks.

Comment provided June 28, 2012 at 12:48 PM

[Reply]

15
Denislav Denev writes:

what a great post! I read it and went to change the titles of my articles twice… wow
It is great to find valuable information which can be applied into practice immediately.
thanks

Comment provided June 29, 2012 at 12:37 AM

[Reply]

16

Howdy would you mind letting me know which hosting company you’re utilizing? I’ve loaded your blog in 3 completely different web browsers and I must say this blog loads a lot faster then most. Can you recommend a good hosting provider at a reasonable price? Cheers, I appreciate it!

Comment provided June 29, 2012 at 1:10 PM

[Reply]

We host all online materials in-house using our own custom designed and built data center. :-)

[Reply]

17
Pamela Alden writes:

Capitalization is very important in article title. Thanks for clarifying this for us.

“Is” rule is superb and need remember while positing. :)

Comment provided July 2, 2012 at 2:31 AM

[Reply]

18
rakesh kumar writes:

if some example can be placed here using these rules, than i think this article will be more useful.

Comment provided August 4, 2012 at 12:23 AM

[Reply]

19
Billy Young writes:

Interesting. Definitely food for thought, considering I have been putting caps at the beginning of all my title words….Though it looks even better when certain words use lowercase letters.

Comment provided November 4, 2012 at 11:16 PM

[Reply]

20
nashaat youssef writes:

Amazing article and I believe I learned a lot from it! By the way I submitted an article the other day and of course my daughter was looking over my shoulder and she mentioned some corrections to my article, she is a senior in high school and I did not pay attention to her remarks, of course I should have listened to her because my article was returned for correction, how embarrassing. It is true you learn something new every day!

Comment provided December 27, 2013 at 11:32 PM

[Reply]

21
shohail writes:

Thanks. I’ve learned CAP style to remember easily.

Comment provided December 30, 2013 at 8:37 AM

[Reply]

22
Paul Kennedy writes:

Your rules for the capitalization of article titles only apply to American publications. In a British/European context usually only the first letter of the title is capitalized (as well as any proper nouns)

Comment provided November 30, 2014 at 6:40 AM

[Reply]

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Leave a comment

Please read our comment policy before commenting.