Titles, Headlines, and Capitalization: Helpful Tips for Researchers

With a serious focus on research content, many academics and researchers don’t worry too much about the mechanics of writing. But having a research paper written in professional, academic English is the key to having your work taken seriously. Communicating information clearly and accurately will ensure that your work gets the attention it deserves. Capitalization in English can be particularly tricky for non-native speakers. Even native speakers struggle to do it correctly! Different writing and citation styles all have different rules for capitalization. In this article, we will talk about the main things to keep in mind when writing titles and headlines in articles to ensure your capitalization is proper. We will also review the differences between different citation styles and suggest some tools so that your research papers are the best they can be.

Capitalization Basics

English capitalization is tricky, but there are that apply in every situation. The first rule is that the first word of a sentence is always capitalized in a title or headline. It does not matter whether that word is a noun, article, preposition, or otherwise- if it comes first, it should be capitalized. With this in mind, of title capitalization.

  1. Only first words capitalized
  2. All significant words capitalized
  3. Vary capitalization by title/headline level

In the first style, a headline or a title is written like a sentence (known as sentence case). For example:

The influence of pharmaceutical pollution on frogs

A study on the influence of social media on self-esteem in teenagers

History of women’s rights in Afghanistan

In the second style, all significant words are capitalized (known as title case). What words are considered significant? This list is quite long, and includes, for example, nouns, pronouns, proper nouns, adjectives, and verbs. An easier way to think about this capitalization style is to focus on what words are not significant. Words that are not significant include articles (a, an, the), prepositions (by, before, in), and conjunctions (and, but, or). For example:

The Influence of Pharmaceutical Pollution on Frogs

A Study on the Influence of Social Media on Self-Esteem in Teenagers

History of Women’s Rights in Afghanistan

In the third style, you can use a combination of the two styles to indicate different levels. For example:

Chapter 1. The Influence of Pharmaceutical Pollution on Frogs (level 1)

Section 1.1. What is pharmaceutical pollution? (level 2)

Section 1.1.2. Types of active ingredients found in waterways (level 3)

Exceptional Cases of Capitalization

You may be thinking that the above rules seem too simple to cover all cases, and you are correct. In English, there are exceptions to just about every rule, including title capitalization. In our first style above, we capitalized the words as we would in a sentence. In this case, we should also capitalize proper nouns. For example:

Ten exciting getaways in Paris

A study of the novel coronavirus impact on the healthcare system in Wuhan

In our second style above, it was mentioned that prepositions are generally not capitalized. However, if a preposition is part of a phrasal verb, it should be capitalized. For example:

How to Bring Up Your Child to be Healthy

Get Up and Go Out: Ten Ways to Stay Fit

When a title or headline contains a hyphenated word, generally both words should be capitalized.

Nightmare on Sixty-Seventh Street: One Man’s Battle with Zoning Laws

However, if the hyphenated word consists of a prefix that cannot stand alone (anti-, pre-, etc.), then only the first word should be capitalized.

Pre-diabetic Teens and Sugar Consumption

These are just a few of the most common exceptions. There are additional rules for things like dates, religions, and occupations, which are covered in this article here.

Capitalization in Different Style Guides

Each style guide (Chicago, APA, MLA, AP) has its own particularities when it comes to citation and how words are written, and capitalization is no exception. In this article, we will discuss the major differences between them, but note that you should always when writing to ensure that you are following the rules.

AP Style

In the AP guide, all words with three letters or fewer are lowercase in a title. However, if any of those short words are verbs (e.g., “is,” “are,” “was,” “be”), they are capitalized. For example:

How to Be an Ethical Researcher

Chicago Style

In Chicago style, all prepositions are lowercase unless they are the first or last word of the title. These include the longer prepositions such as “between,” “among,” and “throughout.”

Between Two Worlds: Navigating through Adolescence

MLA Style

In MLA style, words with three letters or fewer are lowercase, unless they meet the criteria for “significant” words above. If a short word is the first or last word of the title, then it is capitalized.

Eat Healthy, Eat Well: Embracing Good Nutrition

And Thus Spoke Zarathustra

APA Style

APA style uses both sentence case and title case as described in the first part of this article. In APA, all major words and all words that are four letters or longer should be capitalized in a title.

Korean Democracy Thirty Years on

How Effective is Hand Sanitizer Anyway?

Final Tips

Fortunately, there are a number of online tools these days in addition to the style guides that can help you figure out how and when to capitalize words in your titles. While sites can offer quick AI help to keep your paper free of the most common typos, there are other tools available specifically for academics as well. Trinka AI is one option that will provide you with more advanced proofreading for academic and technical writing. Specifically designed to meet the needs of researchers and academics, Trinka can be a great option for when you don’t want to pay for pricier human editors or proofreaders. Of course, if you need human confirmation that you’ve got your capitalization correct, Enago’s writing services are an affordable and fast option as well.

While capitalizing your titles properly can be a challenge, hopefully this guide has provided you with some helpful tips and rules to use as a basis.

Do you find proper capitalization in titles challenging? What questions do you have for us about proper capitalization? Let us know in the comments below.

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