It might seem odd to worry about whether headings are capitalised correctly. Certainly, this isn’t nearly as important as writing a good essay in the first place! But there are rules about how to do these things, so you should check your style guide for advice.
Usually, one of two approaches is used. These are known as ‘title case’ and ‘sentence case’. In this blog post, we set out what these mean and how each version works.
‘Title case’ refers to any approach that capitalises the main words in a heading. The exact rules for this vary depending on the system you’re using, but usually it includes all nouns, pronouns, verbs, adjectives and adverbs (but not articles or prepositions). For example:
How to Capitalise Headings: A Guide for the Perplexed
As shown above, we make an exception to the rule about not capitalising articles (i.e. ‘a’, ‘an’ and ‘the’) and prepositions when they are the first word in a title or subtitle. In addition, some people recommend capitalising longer prepositions, such as ‘about’ or ‘between’.
‘Sentence case’, as the name suggests, capitalises headings as if they were sentences. This means that only the first word in titles and subtitles should be capitalised:
How to capitalise headings: A guide for the perplexed
One exception here is proper nouns, which are always capitalised:
Capital cities in signage: Road sign fonts in Paris and London
In the above, for example, ‘Paris’ and ‘London’ are capitalised because they are proper nouns.
Title Case or Sentence Case?
This depends on several things. If you’re writing something for university, you should check your school’s style guide, which should set out how to format essays.
Alternatively, if you’re using another style guide, you should check for advice on how to capitalise headings. The AP Stylebook, for example, recommends capitalising any word more than four letters long, while the Chicago Manual of Style ignores word length.
Ultimately, as long as you’re consistent, title capitalisation is often a matter of personal preference. But if you need a hand, there are various online tools designed to help.