Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Guidelines for Capitalizing Headings & Titles

Folks often have difficulty knowing what to capitalize when writing headings for articles or, more often in my field, slides for PowerPoint presentations, so I've put together a list of rules to help you learn how to do it. Now, if you don't know the parts of speech, admittedly, I can't help you. Here's my small contribution to reducing the agony of presentation production. Note that it applies only to the English language.

What to Capitalize in a Heading or Title When Using Initial Caps

1. ALL nouns
2. ALL pronouns
3. ALL verbs, no matter how short. That means "is" and "are" always get capitalized
4. ALL adverbs and adjectives
5. ONLY prepositions over 3 letters in length - e.g. NOT "at" or "in" but "With," "Before" and "Along"
6. ONLY articles over 3 letters in length - e.g. NOT "a," "an," "the" but "There," "This," and "That"
7. NO conjunctions under 4 letters in length - e.g. NOT "for," "and," "or," "nor," "yet", "so," or "but"
8. ALWAYS the first word, no matter what part of speech
9. ALWAYS the last word, no matter what part of speech

Confusing? Yep. English often is. But I didn't make this stuff up. I did teach it to college freshmen for a couple of years, however, so that helped drill it in. Don't take my word for it, though. Here are some further sources. I'd link to more authoritative ones like the AP or Chicago Manual of Style, but they all have their content behind pay walls.

One final note: some sources vary as to whether prepositions should ever be capitalized. Since experts differ (this ain't uncommon in English either), I've chosen the over 4 letters route as it "just looks right" and it's what I learned and taught in college.

I'm sure this can use some refining, and I'll update it in the future accordingly. And I welcome your suggestions.

No comments: