Down-and-dirty capitalization guidelines for headlines

Down-and-dirty capitalization guidelines for headlines

When it comes to writing headlines, it’s important to take the time to craft something descriptive, compelling, to-the-point and possibly even mind-bending — to encourage a reader to click or turn the page to read more. Typically, you want the reader to understand at a glance what information your article/post/collateral will contain. Headlines can be a challenge to write and it’s good to exert a little extra effort to ensure your headline does what it’s supposed to.

You did great work, now don’t mess it up

So, good job writing those headlines. Now, here’s our beef: Don’t screw up a great headline with bizarre capitalization. How do you know if you’ve capitalized your headline properly? First, decide if you’re going with title case (in which you capitalize most words) versus sentence case (in which you capitalize only the first letter of the first word as well as any proper nouns).

Title case is the most common and traditional approach and typically where issues arise. For example, let’s look at what’s wrong with these title case headlines:

“Why Your Grandma is a Tech Genius”

“Turn Your Business Problems Into Opportunities With X-Software”

Remember: “is” is a verb

Just because a word is short doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be capitalized. Just because it’s in a headline doesn’t mean it should be capitalized. Therefore, these headlines are more properly written like this:

“Why Your Grandma Is a Tech Genius”

“Turn Your Business Problems into Opportunities with X-Software”

Style guides tend to disagree somewhat on which types of words should or shouldn’t be capitalized in a headline, but let’s not get too nerdy — it’s better to keep it simple with just a few straightforward guidelines.

YES! Capitalize a word in a headline if it’s:

  • A verb or adverb. Watch out: Variations of the verb “to be” should be capitalized, like “is,” “are” and “will.”
  • A noun or pronoun. Watch out: “It” is a pronoun.
  • An adjective.
  • The first word in the headline.

NO! Don’t capitalize a word in a headline if it’s:

  • A preposition. This includes words like by, for, to, on, at, before, in, as.
  • An article. This includes words like an, this, the, a.
  • A conjunction. This includes words like and, or, with.

Another rule of thumb is: be consistent. Pick a style and go with it. In a nutshell, if you remember nothing else, follow the instruction in this (imperfect) haiku:

Stop. Look at headline.
Verb, noun or adjective there?
Cap it. All others, no.

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