Headline Style

[Note: Original post deleted as the sheer level of whininess was deemed inappropriate even for this blog. Older post substituted for everyone's well-being. ---The Management]

Headline style is also known as title case and is also known as What Do I Capitalize? Now, as you know, English is a Germanic language. Although it has lots in common with Latin, it takes a bit more Germanic Stance* when it comes to capitals.

*Germanic Stance = Seemingly Gratuitous Capitalization

In a title, capitalize:

  • first and last word
  • first word of a subtitle
  • nouns
  • pronouns
  • adjectives
  • adverbs
  • the second half of a compound unless it is an article, conjunction, or preposition

If you don’t know what part of speech a word is, don’t panic. The dictionary will tell you. And if you are tempted to feel ashamed, don’t. I look this shit up a lot because I have some alarming gaps in my knowledge.

In a title, set the following lowercase (unless they begin a title or subtitle):

  • articles (the, an, a, etc.)
  • prepositions
  • conjunctions (and, but, for)
  • the words “to” and “as”

There are a few exceptions to the above rules, but none of which you should worry your pretty heads about, unless you are a copyeditor. (Note: I am worrying my not-so-pretty head about this.)

Commonly capitalized words that should be set lowercase

  • seasons: fall, winter, spring, summer
  • academic departments: history department, math department, environmental science department; English is uppercase only because it’s a proper noun

The e.e. cummings (oops! bell hooks) rules:

  • trade names are set as is: iPhone, HarperCollins, LexisNexis
  • pen names (such as bell hooks) are fine lowercase “in appropriate contexts” (Chicago 16, 8.4). Chicago gives library catalogs as an example where a name like bell hooks should be capitalized. I assume this means that if you are writing about bell hooks in a literary paper, you should set her name lowercase. And if you’ve never read bell hooks, do. Then, Chicago says the following: “E. E. Cummings can be safely capitalized; it was one of his publishers, not he himself, who lowercased his name.”
  • If you find yourself beginning a sentence with a lowercase word (or variable), just rewrite the sentence.

Clear? Confusing? Follow-up questions? What’s your favorite Cummings poem?

4 responses to “Headline Style

  1. Here’s one to test your metal. Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that you are an academic and you cite work from foreign authors in your text. Will you follow the rules of capitalisation from their country of origin, or from Chicago (French capitalise only the first word)?

    PS – Cougarson had a great meeting today. All is well. Will tell you about it anon.

    • 1. Good news for Cougarson!
      2. It’s mettle not metal.
      3. Chicago has complex rules: It recommends sentence style for non-Germanic languages (capitalizing only the first letter of the title or subtitle and proper nouns)

      At all the journals I’ve worked at, we’ve gone with author’s capitalization because we assume he/she knows the foreign language and its rules and we don’t.

      If it were a reference section, I’d go with sentence style. However, if it’s in the text and you are expected in this paper to know the foreign language in question, I’d follow the rules of that language.

      Short(er) answer: in references and places where the language itself is incidental: go with Chicago/sentence case. If it’s somewhere where the language itself is more significant to your argument or credentials: go with the language.

      Even shorter answer: If you’re a copyeditor, put it in sentence style. If you’re an author, go with the language.

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