Last month on this site, Patricia laid out a very simple rule for capitalization when it comes to titles, she said that writers should capitalize major or important words in a title or headline.
She is absolutely correct.
That is the rule I was taught in high school and again in college where I studied journalism. I didn’t question it at all until, more recently, I’ve begun noticing that the sites I link to don’t seem to obey the rule consistently, including many mainstream media outlets.
For better or worse, this rule is under attack and the Web seems to be decidedly split on this issue. It has made me wonder if I should be reevaluating how closely I should follow it and how much longer this “rule” will be with us at all.
The stalwarts of mainstream media seem to favor the traditional style, both the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal capitalize every important word in a headline. However, USA Today and my local newspaper, The Times-Picayune, do not, at least not online.
Likewise, blogs are split on the issue as well. TechCrunch uses the traditional capitalization, Engadget uses sentence style. The style war also makes for some humorous allies. Such as the Huffington Post and the National Review Online both favoring the traditional style but Americablog and Drudge Report favoring the sentence style.
The confusion is understandable though. Stylebooks are heavily conflicted on this topic and it appears even the AP style guide has left this decision up to the individual papers, creating different headline styles that are acceptable.
It’s confusing and a headache for me personally as I use these titles to link to articles in my 3 Count column series on my main blog and have to constantly format them for consistency. However, it doesn’t seem like an issue that is going away any time soon.
To Make Matters Worse…
As if two competing styles weren’t enough some sites, including this one, automatically format titles so that they are in all caps. Others, especially a lot of Web 2.0 companies, go the opposite way and remove all caps from their titles, even the first letter.
This means that you can literally find four different capitalization styles on the Web, all caps, title caps, sentence caps and no caps. This creates four different ways to capitalize one headline.
- MAN BITES DOG AND RUNS AWAY
- Man Bites Dog and Runs Away
- Man bites dog and runs away
- man bites dog and runs away
All of these are acceptable title styles on at least a few sites of the Web. Though the last seems to be exceptionally rare, the first three are relatively common and the second and third both have broad acceptance in mainstream media though it seems the second way, traditional headline style, still seems to have slightly broader acceptance.
In short, if you want to figure out which one to use, you have a major headache ahead of you.
My advice is simple, do what feels right for your site. If you are trying to present hard news or information, title caps is probably the best. If you’re wanting to appear trendier and more modern, while still being somewhat formal, sentence caps is best. All caps is more for sites being trendy and/or edgy and should only be used with fonts that look good in caps.
Finally, no caps should probably almost never be used, save by blogs that don’t want to be taken seriously. Sometimes this can be part of an edgy persona but it is a tough act to pull off as it flouts any convention of grammar, let alone title capitalization.
In the end though, it probably is not a huge deal. The capitalization of your title is not nearly as important as what it actually says. It seems the only people who really obsess with this are frustrated writers who have to copy and reformat titles several times a day.
Which probably explains why I’m writing this now…