Which words should you capitalize?
Rewrite to Avoid Starting a Sentence with a Lowercase Name
Another common question is how to handle headlines or titles that begin with company names or product names that start with a lowercase letter, such as “iPhone” or “eBay,” since every legitimate headline style says you should capitalize the first letter of the headline. If you can, rewrite it so the word that needs a lowercase letter at the beginning is in the middle of the headline or title, and then write it as the companies want you to—in camel case, with a lowercase letter at the beginning and a capital letter in the middle.
If you can’t avoid having an iPhone- or eBay-type word at the beginning of your title, it’s up to you whether you keep the first letter lowercase. The Chicago Manual of Style recommends just starting the title with the lowercase letter at the beginning of the product or company name (e.g., iPhone Found on the Moon), but the Associated Press and the Yahoo! Style Guide both recommend capitalizing the first letter when such words must appear at the beginning of a sentence or headline (e.g. EBay to Start Selling Air).
Pick a Style for the Second Half of Hyphenated Words
Another common question is whether to capitalize the second part of a hyphenated word in a headline. Again, there are multiple styles. You just need to decide on one and be consistent. The style I use is that if I would capitalize the second part if it were a separate word in the title, then I capitalize it when it comes after a hyphen.
Make a Decision and Stick with It
As you can see, there are a lot of decisions to make about headline and title styles. If your boss, editor, or teacher has a preferred style, you should use that; but if you are the master of your own universe, for example, an independent blogger, you’re free to choose any method. The important thing is that once you pick your style, stick with it. Inconsistency is always bad.
Mignon Fogarty is the founder of the Quick and Dirty Tips network and the author of The Grammar Devotional and Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing.
- “Principles of Headline-Style Capitalization,” Chicago Manual of Style, 16th edition, online. (accessed June 7, 2011).
- “Composition Titles,” AP Stylebook, Online Edition, 2011. (accessed June 7, 2011).
- Barr, C. and the Senior Editors of Yahoo!, “Capitalization,” The Yahoo! Style Guide, St. Martin’s Griffin, 2010. Image: at Wikimedia