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