I used to man­age a cit­i­zen jour­nal­ism web­site, so I often keep my eye on logis­ti­cal issues regard­ing the local media. One thing I’ve noticed is their incon­sis­ten­cy in cap­i­tal­iz­ing words in a sto­ry head­line.

Here are some recent exam­ples of Leth­bridge news sources that cap­i­tal­ize head­lines:

Here are some recent exam­ples of Leth­bridge news sources that don’t cap­i­tal­ize head­lines:

As we ven­ture into more estab­lished, nation­al media, we see that non cap­i­tal­iz­ing head­lines appears to be the norm:

Out­side Cana­da, there’s still incon­sis­ten­cy. For exam­ple, New York Times uses title case, but oth­er major news­pa­pers (LA Times, Wash­ing­ton Post, USA Today) don’t. BBC, The Guardian, and The Times also fol­low sen­tence case, as do The Syd­ney Morn­ing Her­ald and The New Zealand Her­ald.

Why the differences?

Well, it comes down to head­line cap­i­tal­iza­tion being a style issue rather than a rule. While there is con­sen­sus on cap­i­tal­iza­tion in titles of major works (books, jour­nals, mag­a­zines, and so forth), there’s no con­sen­sus on head­line cap­i­tal­iza­tion.

Cana­di­an Press (13th edi­tion, p. 204):

Cap­i­tal­ize all prop­er names, trade names, gov­ern­ment depart­ments and agen­cies of gov­ern­ment, names of asso­ci­a­tions, com­pa­nies, clubs, reli­gions, lan­guages, nations, races, places, address­es. Oth­er­wise low­er­case is favoured where a rea­son­able option exists.

Chica­go Man­u­al of Style (8.157 Prin­ci­ples of head­line-style cap­i­tal­iza­tion):

Cap­i­tal­ize the first and last words in titles and sub­ti­tles, and cap­i­tal­ize all oth­er major words (nouns, pro­nouns, verbs, adjec­tives, adverbs, and some con­junc­tions).

The Cana­di­an Style (11.16 Head­ings):

Unless a head­ing is cen­tred or full cap­i­tal­iza­tion is used, only the first word and prop­er nouns are nor­mal­ly cap­i­tal­ized.

Where do we go from here?

To answer the ques­tion posed in the title of this blog post, what it comes down to is per­son­al pref­er­ence. If your orga­ni­za­tion requires title case for cap­i­tal­iza­tion, then you don’t have much of a choice; oth­er­wise, it’s entire­ly up to you. Keep in mind, how­ev­er, that it appears that a major­i­ty of estab­lished media out­lets favour sen­tence case for their head­lines, and if you choose title case, you’ll be in the minor­i­ty.

Where do I stand?

I favour sen­tence case. I abhor unnec­es­sary cap­i­tal­iza­tion, and I find title case in head­lines (and head­ings in aca­d­e­m­ic papers for that mat­ter) unnec­es­sary. It’s why I use sen­tence case for my blog post titles.

Which do you pre­fer? Title case or sen­tence case? Let me know in the com­ments below.

About Kim Siever

I am a copy­writer and copy­ed­i­tor. I blog on writ­ing tips most­ly, but I some­times throw in my thoughts about run­ning a small busi­ness.

Fol­low me on Twit­ter at @hotpepper.

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