Headline-style capitalization, also called title case, means that the main words are capitalized and the “less important” words are lowercased in titles and headings. Headline-style capitalization is the format you see in most books and magazines.
This blog features headline-style capitalization for all titles and most headings. Here are several examples:
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Let’s look at which style guides recommend headline-style capitalization—and which one doesn’t. Then, we’ll explore six tips for using headline-style capitalization in your own writing.
Which Style Guides Recommend Headline-Style Capitalization?
The following primary style guides recommend headline-style capitalization for titles and headings:
- The Chicago Manual of Style (Chicago style)1
- Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (APA style)2
- MLA Handbook from the Modern Language Association (MLA style)3
- AMA Manual of Style from the American Medical Association (AMA style)4
Which Style Guide Doesn’t Recommend Headline-Style Capitalization?
When we think of headlines, we probably think of newspapers. However, the primary style guide for journalists, The Associated Press Stylebook (AP style) doesn’t use headline-style capitalization.5 Instead, AP style recommends sentence-style capitalization, usually without ending punctuation.
Six Tips for Using Headline-Style Capitalization
Here are six tips for using headline-style capitalization based on the primary style guides mentioned above. The specific recommendations vary (sometimes significantly!) between style guides, so consult your own guide for specific issues. If you don’t have a designated guide, visit “Which Style Guide Is Best for You?”
Tip 1: Capitalize the first and last words even if they are a part of speech that would be lowercased elsewhere in the title or heading.
Tip 2: Capitalize the first word after a colon even if it is a part of speech that would be lowercased elsewhere in the title or heading.
Tip 3: Capitalize nouns, pronouns, adjectives, adverbs, and verbs (including is, am, are, and be).
Tip 4: Don’t capitalize the articles the, a, or an.
Tip 5: Don’t capitalize coordinating conjunctions for, and, or, but, or nor.
Tip 6: Don’t capitalize prepositions (e.g., with, between, to).
1. The Chicago Manual of Style, 17th ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2017), 8.159–160.
2. Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association, 7th ed. (Washington, DC: American Psychological Association, 2020), 6.17
3. “Heading and Title,” Formatting a Research Paper, The MLA Style Center, accessed June 20, 2020; MLA Handbook, 8th ed. (New York: Modern Language Association of America, 2016), 67–68.
4. AMA Manual of Style, 10th ed. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007), 10.2.
5. The Associated Press Stylebook 2020–2022 (New York: Associated Press, 2020), 138.
6. Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association, 7th ed. (Washington, DC: American Psychological Association, 2020), 6.17; AMA Manual of Style, 10th ed. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007), 10.2.