At Text Wizard Copywriting, I style headlines in what’s known as sentence case (example above). It’s simple and clean.
Another popular style is called title case. I’m not a fan of title case because it’s difficult to apply consistently. There are too many variations.
To help you choose your own title style, here’s my run-down of titling styles including several variations of title case. My wildly tortuous example headline has enough twists to illustrate the variations.
Title punctuation follows the normal rules, apart from one: titles don’t end with a full stop. But that, too, is just a convention. You can use a stop if you want.
Only first word, proper nouns, and other habitually capitalised words have initial caps.
Well-known rapper, No-Z Parker, to speak to his A-list girlfriend between now and a day to come, but calls next year’s tour off
Designers love setting everything in caps. Resist if you can because it makes your copy so much harder to read
WELL-KNOWN RAPPER, NO-Z PARKER, TO SPEAK TO HIS A-LIST GIRLFRIEND BETWEEN NOW AND A DAY TO COME, BUT CALLS NEXT YEAR'S TOUR OFF
All lower case
Another designer-led approach. Easier to read than all caps, but you’ll have to be prepared to drop the initial caps from everything including your own brand name.
well-known rapper, no-z parker, to speak to his a-list girlfriend between now and a day to come, but calls next year's tour off
Capitalise every word
Everything gets a capital letter.
Well-Known Rapper, No-Z Parker, To Speak To His A-List Girlfriend Between Now And A Day To Come, But Calls Next Year's Tour Off
Ugly. Ugly. Ugly. Which is why publishers and typographers developed title case.
Title case principles
Title case downplays the lesser words to give a more balanced look. Some people interpret that to mean that all short words should have a lower-case initial.
Well-Known Rapper, No-Z Parker, to Speak to his A-List Girlfriend Between now and a day to Come, but Calls Next Year's Tour off
Unfortunately that’s not how it works. It’s the grammatically lesser words that don’t get caps. The basic rules are:
- Capitalise the first and last words
- Capitalise nouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs
- Capitalise proper nouns and other words that are habitually capitalised
- Capitalise all pronouns (you, me, she, her) and possessive pronouns (my, your, his)
- Capitalise subordinating conjunctions (although, because)
- Don’t capitalise articles (a, an, the)
- Don’t capitalise prepositions (in, on, to, of, over, under)
- Don’t capitalise conjunctions (and, or, but)
That gives you a title that looks like this:
Well-Known Rapper, No-Z Parker, to Speak to His A-List Girlfriend between Now and a Day to Come, but Calls Next Year's Tour Off
…which is where the complications start.
Title case (preposition length)
Most style guides recommend capitalising longer prepositions, but they disagree on whether the cut-off point is four or five letters. Choose whichever you feel comfortable with. Either way, ‘between’ should be capitalised.
Well-Known Rapper, No-Z Parker, to Speak to His A-List Girlfriend Between Now and a Day to Come, but Calls Next Year's Tour Off
Title case (when ‘to’ is not a preposition)
The ‘to’ in ‘to speak’ is part of the verb. The ‘to’ in ‘to come’ is used attributively. Both should be capitalised. But not the ‘to’ in ‘to his’. That is a preposition.
Well-Known Rapper, No-Z Parker, To Speak to His A-List Girlfriend Between Now and a Day To Come, but Calls Next Year's Tour Off
Title case (hyphenated words)
You can choose whether to capitalise the second part of a hyphenated compound. If you choose lower-case, your title looks like this:
Well-known Rapper, No-Z Parker, To Speak to His A-list Girlfriend Between Now and a Day To Come, but Calls Next Year's Tour Off
Title case (you choose)
That’s enough copywriting rules and sub-rules for now. If you’re into this sort of thing, there are plenty more variations.
The rules are useful only if you think that the tweaked versions of title case are more elegant than the basic, capitalise-everything style. If you like title case, choose the elements you feel comfortable with. It’s about developing your own consistent style, not about following someone else’s rules.
On the other hand, you’ll find detailed sets of readymade rules in the style guides (OUP, Chicago, Associated Press, etc). Good luck.