Lately I have been seeing a lot of odd capitalization in titles, headings on websites, and subject lines. So I would like to be helpful and provide some easy rules.
Here is what to capitalize:
- All words of four or more letters, no matter what or where the words are (more on this rule later)
- The first word of the title and of the subtitle
- The last word of the title
- ALL OTHER WORDS except conjunctions (and, or, but, nor, yet, so, for), articles (a, an, the), and short prepositions (in, to, of, at, by, up, for, off, on).
That’s it. Those are the simple rules I follow, and The Gregg Reference Manual backs me up.
Not all reference manuals agree with Gregg, however. Other manuals make the rules a bit more complex.
The Microsoft Manual of Style for Technical Publications does not capitalize four-letter prepositions. The Chicago Manual of Style (Chicago) and The MLA Handbook don’t capitalize any prepositions–unless, for all three manuals, the word fits in category 2 or 3 above. So if you want to follow the rules of those guides, you need to recognize prepositions such as with, from, between, around, and through to know whether to capitalize them.
I prefer the simplicity of my way–that is, Gregg’s way.
I grabbed a few books off my shelf so you can test yourself. Decide what to capitalize in these titles:
- made to stick: why some ideas survive and others die
- the story factor: inspiration, influence, and persuasion through the art of storytelling
- fierce conversations: achieving success at work and in life, one conversation at a time
- a funny thing happened on the way to the boardroom: using humor in business speaking
Remember, first you can capitalize any word of four or more letters, if you follow my style. Then capitalize the first word of the title and the subtitle, and the last word of the title. Then you have to think about whether the remaining short words are conjunctions, articles, or prepositions. If they are, they are lower case.
Okay, here goes:
- Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die (to is a short preposition; and is a conjunction)
- The Story Factor: Inspiration, Influence, and Persuasion Through the Art of Storytelling (Chicago would leave through lowercase as a preposition)
- Fierce Conversations: Achieving Success at Work and in Life, One Conversation at a Time (one is capitalized because it is an adjective)
- A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Boardroom: Using Humor in Business Speaking
The most common errors I see with title capitalization are with short words that are not conjunctions, articles, or prepositions. Words such as one, it, its, it’s, him, and own should all be capitalized no matter where they appear in a title.