GrammarPhile Blog

Some Notes on Titles of Works

Posted by Phil Jamieson   May 29, 2012 6:30:00 AM

Authoritative style guide books contain pages and pages of notes on titles of works. Do you know that headlines, titles, and subtitles in proposals, white papers, and brochures are the most common spots for typos? And they are also hotspots for innocent errors (errors you look at and don't realize are errors) as well, mostly in capitalization and hyphenation. This week we're covering classic headline style.

For examples, consider the following failed headlines, extracted from documents we've seen:

  • For Salespeople, More is Better (Is)
  • The Story of The Failed Proposal (the)
  • Use Us For your Marketing Efforts (for Your)
  • Hand-Me-Downs and Forget-Me-Nots (-me-downs, -me-nots)

Headline style. The conventions in headline style are governed by a mixture of aesthetics (the appearance of a title on a printed page), emphasis, and grammar. Some words are always capitalized; some are always lowercased (unless used as the first or last word in a title); others require a decision. The Chicago Manual of Style recommends the following rules:

  1. Always capitalize the first and last words both in titles and in subtitles and all other major words (nouns, pronouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, and some conjunctions--but see rule 4).
  2. Lowercase the articles the, a, and an.
  3. Lowercase prepositions, regardless of length, except when they are stressed (through in A River Runs Through It), are used adverbially or adjectivally (up in Look Up, down in Look Down, on in The On Button, etc.), are used as conjunctions (before in Look Before You Leap, etc.), or are part of a Latin expression used adjectivally or adverbially (De Facto, In Vitro, etc.).
  4. Lowercase the conjunctions and, but, for, or, nor.
  5. Lowercase the words to and as in any grammatical function, for simplicity's sake.
  6. Lowercase the second part of a species name, such as lucius in Esox lucius, or the part of a proper name that would be lowercased in text, such as de or von.

For words that can be used as prepositions, as adverbs, or as adjectives, consult the dictionary. All the following examples illustrate rule 1; the numbers in parentheses refer to rules 2-6.

      • Mnemonics That Work Are Better Than Rules That Don't
      • Singing While You Ski
      • A Little Learning Is a Dangerous Thing (2)
      • Taking Down Names, Spelling Them Out, and Typing Them Up (3,4)
      • Tired but Standing
      • The Ski Coach as Anonymous Assistant
      • From Homo erectus to Homo sapiens: A Brief History (3,5,6)
      • Skiing on Glass in the Maine Summer, but Turn On, Tune In, and Enjoy (3)
      • Skiing with Fido, but A Good Dog to Ski With
      • Voting for the Bond Issue, but Voting For and Against the Bond Issue (3)
      • Ten Hectares per Capita, but Landownership and Per Capita Income (3)
      • Progress in In Vitro Fertilization (3)

If you are not sure what grammatical function a word is performing (or even if you are), try reading the title aloud: if you would stress the word, capitalize it; if not, lowercase it.

Source: Chicago Manual of Style


Topics: capitalization

Subscribe to Email Updates

Sign up for our emails!

Sign Up

Search Our Blog

Recent Posts

Posts by Topic

see all