Mar 292012

Once upon a time in olde England we used to say thou and shalt. We don’t anymore. Language and style evolve. Yesterday I had a discussion with associates in Canada, about capital letters in headlines.

In my article writing, I use sentence case. That means I only use a capital at the beginning of the heading or subheading. And for proper nouns like names of people and places. It’s the same way I use capitals in an ordinary sentence.

Lets take an example. When you use sentence case in a headline, it looks like this:

Why black cabs in London are iconic

The first word has a captial letter and the place name London does too. Yesterday, during our discussion, I realised others take a different view!

Jack uses capitals all through his headlines and subheads, but not for every word. So he would write the same headline like this:

Why Black Cabs in London Are Iconic

This is known as title case. All the main words in the title have a capital letter.

Notice the in doesn’t have a capital letter. Words of less than 3 letters generally don’t start with a capital letter, even when you use title case.

So who’s right?

Both of us! A quick check online reveals that there is only one rule. And that is, be consistent! Neither style is right. Fashions change. It used to be, book titles used title case. Articles in journals and magazines generally did not.

Today some newspapers like The New Yorker use title case, others don’t. If you glance across the titles of the books on your bookshelves, you’ll see a wide variety of styles including no capitals at all, ALL UPPERCASE, and a MIX of UPPERCASE and lowercase.

I took the decision to drop title case because I found it hard to be consistent. Words like and made me trip. To capitalise or not? And always looks funny with a capital letter, even at the beginning of a sentence!

There was good reason to use title case in headlings before it was easy to change formatting. Capital letters made a headline or subhead stand out from the body of the text.

Now we can easily embolden, colour and enlarge our headline or subhead. It stands out. The capital letters on top, just make it look cluttered. Sentence case looks cleaner.

So the decision is yours. Use title case or don’t. Just stick to one golden rule, thou shalt be consistent!


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About Juliet Fay

Juliet Fay is a coach, trainer and writer offering personal and marketing coaching for individuals and businesses looking for positive change in their life and work. She is also developing change programmes for social care workers.

  One Response to “When to use capitals in headlines and subheads”

  1. Hi Juliet,
    I just read the above about capital letters in headings, and I wanted to let you know that I AGREE COMPLETELY!! As a journalist of 35 years’ experience, (with the FT group in London,) the American habit of Capping Up Just About Any Word You Could Think Of if it appeared in a title I found to be highly confusing (not to mention their over frequent use of the full stop between abbreviation letters).

    I agree that consistency is paramount, and the simplicity in the sentence case makes a lot of sense. I have always used sentence case throughout my career, and will continue to do so now that I am retired and writing voluntarily for various organisations.
    Kind regards
    Janet Walford

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