Capitalization of Titles and Headings — The 3 Methods

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Capitalization-of-Titles-Definition

While writing a dissertation, you can choose three options for capitalizing your section and chapter headings. You may capitalize the first word only, all significant words, or combine the two methods.

This article explores the three methods of capitalizing headings and titles.

Capitalization of Titles – In a Nutshell

Depending on the style of capitalization of titles, you may capitalize all significant words or only the first word. If you choose the first option, then you should capitalize every word except the following:

  • Articles – an, a, the, etc.
  • Prepositions – of, in, on, etc.
  • Coordinating conjunctions – but, or, and, etc.
  • The word “to.”

Also, ensure you understand what the Style Guides, like APA style, MLA and Chicago style, say about capitalization before writing your paper.1

Definition: Capitalization of titles and headings

The three main methods of capitalizing headings include sentence case, title case, and a combination of both sentence and title case.2 All three have specific guidelines you should follow when using them.

It is essential to look out for any inconsistencies while using the different styles of capitalization of titles for your academic writing. Hence, always remain consistent to ensure your audience can easily follow through with your content. You must also understand that all proper nouns appearing in any headings should be capitalized.

Capitalization of titles and headings: The methods

Capitalization of titles methods

Here is an in-depth look at the capitalization of titles methods you can use:

Method 1 — Title case

When using the Title Case, you capitalize every significant word. This capitalization of titles style helps you understand what a powerful word is and what is not.

Generally, significant words are pronouns, nouns, adjectives, adverbs, and verbs; therefore, do not capitalize any prepositions, articles, or conjunctions.

Here is a table that gives examples of this method of capitalization of titles:

Example of method 1:

Chapter 3 Literature Review
Section 3.1 History of Cake Baking
Section 3.2 Emerging Technologies in Cake Baking
Section 3.3 Competition in the Cake Industry
Section 3.4 Community Impacts
Section 3.5 Modern-day Cake Industry

Method 2 — Sentence case

If you choose to use the Sentence Case, you only capitalize the first words. The table below shows examples of this capitalization of titles method:

Example of method 2:

Chapter 3 Literature review
Section 3.1 History of cake baking
Section 3.2 Emerging technologies in cake baking
Section 3.3 Competition in the cake industry
Section 3.4 Community impacts
Section 3.5 Modern-day cake industry

Method 3 —
Capitalization varies by methods

You can combine the two methods above in this capitalization of titles method. Here, you choose when to use a title case and when to format it with the sentence case. For example, you can use method 1 for chapter headings and 2 for lower-level headings and titles.

The table below shows examples of this method of capitalization of titles:

Example of method 3:

Chapter 3 Literature Review (level 1 heading)
Section 3.1 History of cake baking (level 2 heading)
Section 3.2 Emerging technologies in cake baking
Section 3.3 Competition in the cake industry
Section 3.4 Community impacts
Section 3.5 Modern-day cake industry

Capitalization titles and headings: Proper nouns

However, theories, models or schools of thought are not proper nouns, so you should not capitalize them in any of the styles of capitalization of titles. It would help if you only capitalized the scholar’s name when necessary.

Example of the capitalization of titles and headings:

Wrong: The Realist School

Correct: the realist school

Despite the capitalization of titles style, ensure you follow the grammar rules for using proper nouns. These constitute the name of organizations, people, and places and are always capitalized in headings, regardless of the writing style. For example, when writing the names of a country, like England, you must capitalize it regardless of your writing style.

Consistency is important

If you are wondering which option you should use for the capitalization of titles, we recommend using the title or sentence case for your headings. Both, title and sentence cases, are easier to follow and would not require you to make many choices of the words you should capitalize and those you should not. Additionally, using lots of capital letters may make it difficult to read the texts and follow through, especially when your headings are longer.

You should also remember the specific requirements for writing headings for the APA, MLA, and Chicago styles. This will ensure you use the method of capitalization of titles as required.

Why consistency is important

Whatever option you choose for capitalization of titles and headings, remember that consistency throughout your document matters. This applies to your main chapter headings and the supporting materials, including appendices, acknowledgements, abstracts, figures and tables, reference lists, or table of contents.

To remove any inconsistency that might result from your preferred capitalization of titles style, carefully analyze your take on the contents. You can use Microsoft Word to automatically generate your list and see all your headings in a list. Looking through headings together without any distractions will pinpoint any anomalies. Also, ensure that other components of your dissertation format and layout are consistent and relate to your headings.

FAQs

Because a thesis statement is an argument or claims you write to defend your research, do not capitalize it. Only capitalize the words you should capitalize according to the English Grammar.3

All the first words of titles and subtitles are capitalized in MLA format. For example, The Future Fair: A Fair for Everybody.

In Chicago and MLA, all prepositions appear lowercase, regardless of length. However, in APA style, capitalize all four letters and longer words, even if they are prepositions.

Most people use the AP Stylebook to write media, journalism, and corporate communication content. In this capitalization of titles method, capitalize all words of four and more letters, even when they are prepositions.

Sources

1 Purdue Online Writing Lab. “APA Headings and Seriation.” Purdue University. Accessed December 13, 2022. https://owl.purdue.edu/owl/research_and_citation/apa_style/apa_formatting_and_style_guide/apa_headings_and_seriation.html.

2 University of Wollongong. “Effective Headings.” Accessed December 13, 2022. https://www.uow.edu.au/student/learning-co-op/assessments/effective-headings/.

3 English Grammar. “The rules of capitalization.” March 6, 2014. https://www.englishgrammar.org/rules-capitalization/.