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Writing Tip: February 27, 2002

Titles: Which Words Should Be Capitalized?

The following three titles contain capitalization errors. Can you spot them?

1. A New Approach to Marketing on The Internet
2. How To Promote Your Small Business In Five Easy Steps
3. Everything You Always Wanted to Know about Titles But Were Afraid to Ask

Follow these guidelines when deciding which words to capitalize in a title: unless they are the first or the last words in a title, do not capitalize

--articles (a, an, the),
--prepositions (regardless of their length),
--coordinating conjunctions (and, but, or, nor, for, so, yet), and
--the word "to" that marks infinitives (to walk, to run, to play, etc.).

Sentence 1 is incorrect because the article the should not be capitalized. Notice that the prepositions to and on are correctly lowercased.

In sentence 2, the infinitive marker to and the preposition in should not be capitalized.

Sentence 3 incorrectly capitalizes the conjunction but. The preposition about and the infinitive marker to (to ask), however, are correctly lowercased. As the Harbrace College Handbook (Fort Worth, TX: Harcourt Brace, 1998) points out, some style books used to advocate capitalizing longer prepositions. But both the Modern Language Association Manual of Style and the Chicago Manual of Style prefer that all prepositions be lowercased, including longer ones such as between, among, and throughout.

While these guidelines hold true in most writing situations, keep in mind that some style manuals advocate a different style for capitalization in bibliographical entries. Writers using the American Psychological Association's style manual, for example, capitalize only the first word and all proper nouns in titles.

TEST YOURSELF

Can you spot any errors in the capitalization of words in these titles?

1. Get it Write
2. Six Tips For Writing Better Business Letters And Memos
3. How To Travel Around Europe On A Budget

ANSWERS

1. Get It Write (Pronouns should be capitalized.)
2. Six Tips for Writing Better Business Letters and Memos
3. How to Travel around Europe on a Budget

Copyright 2002 Get It Write

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