Sentence Case vs. Title Case: When to Use Which
The two major capitalization styles for headlines and titles are sentence case and title case. In sentence case, only the first word and all proper nouns are capitalized, as shown in the following example:
One more day of extreme heat for East Coast
In title case, all words except for articles, conjunctions, and (short) prepositions are capitalized (for more information, see Title Capitalization Rules):
One More Day of Extreme Heat for East Coast
Both styles have their uses, and in this post, I will discuss under which conditions each of these two styles can or should be used.
Titles of Works
This section deals with the titles of works, for example,
- book titles
- movie titles
- song titles
- album titles
- titles of plays
- titles of works of art
- TV show titles
- video game titles
These are also called composition titles. For such titles, it is common practice to use title case, and not sentence case. For example, you would write “To Kill a Mockingbird,” not “To kill a mockingbird.”
If you are using APA style, then you need to be aware of an exception: while title case is used for titles of references that appear in the main text of a paper, you must use sentence case for titles of articles, books, etc., that appear in reference list entries.
Muhle-Karbe, P. S., & Krebs, R. M. (2012). On the influence of reward on action-effect binding. Frontiers in Psychology, 3, 450. http://dx.doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2012.00450
Other Titles and Headlines
This section covers titles that are not composition titles. For example,
- news headlines
- article titles
- blog titles
- essay titles
- email subjects
- button labels
- table headings
In these cases, either sentence case or title case is possible, but you may not be free to choose. If you are writing a paper for your university or an article for a magazine, check if they have a style guide you need to follow. For example, if you are writing an article for medium.com, then using title case for the headline is preferred.
If the organization you are writing for uses AP style, this means that your headlines should be in sentence case. In AP style, title case is only used for composition titles.
If you are writing for your own blog or website, the choice between title case and sentence case is up to you. Both styles have strong supporters. A title in title case is said to have more gravitas, and it stands out as a title even without a special design being applied (bold face, large font size, etc.) Sentence case is supposed to be more casual and easier to read.
It is also possible to mix the two styles. For example, you could use title case for level 1 and level 2 headings, and sentence case for headings at lower levels. (This used to be the APA guideline up to and including the 6th edition of the APA publication manual.)
For commercial websites, advertising campaigns, etc., I would recommend to not make your choice based on emotion, but to run A/B tests to see whether title case or sentence case results in higher conversion rates (for example, “Add to cart” versus “Add to Cart”).
For any other text that is not a headline or a title; for example,
- complete sentences
use sentence case. Title case should not be used for continuous text.
Whether you decide to use sentence case or title case, it is import to apply this style consistently and correctly. For example, if you are using title case, you should keep in mind that be and is are always capitalized, and that words like in and on must be capitalized when they are not used as prepositions. The Title Case Converter does all this, and more, automatically.
Photo: Raphael Schaller