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Title Capitalization for Your Essays [For Students]

May 16, 2024
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Many of us have experienced moments of confusion when unsure about which words to capitalize and which to leave lowercase, leading to questions about the underlying principles of title capitalization especially when you have a style guide to follow. If you are given the task of writing an essay, then you must know what to capitalize and how to capitalize the words for your headings. Title capitalization must be taken seriously because ultimately it is part of the formatting that you have to follow. I will show you how to do title capitalization for students and most importantly, what to capitalize and what you should keep in mind while title capitalization.

Title Capitalization for Your Essays


Challenges of Getting the Titles Right for Your Essays

Your concern regarding the title format typically revolves around capitalization accuracy. Here's a quick guide:

1.Confused About When to Use a Certain Type of Capitalization:

If you've got your title ready but find yourself unsure about what to capitalize and what not, remember these points:

  • Sentence case: This capitalization style capitalizes only the first letter of the first word in a sentence, along with any proper nouns or other words that are typically capitalized in English sentences. It's commonly used in writing sentences, paragraphs, and headings.

  • Title Case: Title Case is commonly used for titles, headings, and subtitles, where the first letter of most words is capitalized. Students are often provided with guidelines based on specific style manuals such as APA, MLA, or Chicago style, dictating how titles should be capitalized according to the rules of each style.

For example, in APA style, the first word of the title, the first word after a colon, and proper nouns are capitalized, while the rest of the words are in lowercase. In contrast, MLA style capitalizes the first letter of every major word in the title.

  • Uppercase: Uppercase formatting is typically used for abbreviations, acronyms, or initialisms to ensure clarity and consistency. On the other hand, lowercase formatting is generally used for regular text to maintain readability and conformity with standard writing conventions.

  • Lowercase:  Students may use lowercase formatting when entering URLs, file paths, or coding snippets in their assignments or projects. This ensures that the text remains in the correct format, especially in technical or computer science-related fields.

2.Unsure About Which Words to Be Capitalized and Which Not:

One of the challenges of getting the titles right for your essays is understanding the grammar rules associated with capitalization. Students often grapple with deciding which words to capitalize and which to leave in lowercase, as there are specific conventions to follow depending on the context and style guide.

For instance, while proper nouns and the first word of a sentence are typically capitalized, the rules become more nuanced when dealing with titles and headings. There are specific guidelines outlined in style manuals such as APA, MLA, or Chicago style, which dictate the capitalization of titles based on the type of words used and their position within the title.

Also, certain words like articles (e.g., "a," "an," "the"), conjunctions (e.g., "and," "but," "or"), and prepositions (e.g., "of," "in," "to") are often left in lowercase unless they are the first or last word of the title. This can lead to confusion and uncertainty among students when creating titles for their essays or academic papers.

General Rules for Capitalizing the Titles of Your Essays

The rules for capitalization can be simplified using an easy technique. One effective method I've discovered for fixing these rules in my mind is by categorizing them into two distinct groups: what to capitalize and what not to capitalize. This approach allows for clear differentiation and easier retention of the capitalization rules.

Capitalize

Do not Capitalize

The First and Last Word

Short Prepositions (in, on, at, by, with, to, from, for, of, etc.)

Nouns and Pronouns (names of people, places, things)

Articles  (a, an, the)

Adjectives (descriptive words) and Adverbs (words that modify verbs)

Short Coordinating Conjunctions  (and, but, or, nor, for, yet, so)

Verbs and Helping Verbs  (action words)


Now, I'll demonstrate how I apply this technique, particularly when working on my thesis and adding headings.

In the title I’ve referenced from my paper, the capitalization follows the rules I have previously outlined. The first and last words, "Leader" and "Individual," are capitalized because they are nouns. Meanwhile, the words "as" and "an" in between are not capitalized, as they are a conjunction and an article, respectively.

Capitalization for Article, Noun, and Conjunction in Title



The heading follows a similar pattern where two nouns are sandwiched between a conjunction like "and," the same capitalization rule applies. The nouns at the beginning and end of the title should be capitalized, while the conjunction "and" and any other non-capitalized words in the middle should not be capitalized.

Capitalization for Noun, and Conjunction in Title



Here a heading and subheading needs proper capitalization and it's done as such:

1.Reflection on Concepts and Theories

In this heading, "Reflection," "Concepts," and "Theories" are all nouns and should be capitalized according to the capitalization rule for nouns. "On" is a preposition and should not be capitalized.

Therefore, the correct capitalization for this heading would be: "Reflection on Concepts and Theories".

2.Hersey-Blanchard Situational Leadership Theory

In this heading, "Hersey-Blanchard" is a proper noun and should be capitalized. "Situational", "Leadership", and "Theory" are also nouns and should be capitalized. The hyphens between "Hersey" and "Blanchard" should not affect the capitalization.

Therefore, the correct capitalization for this heading would be: "Hersey-Blanchard Situational Leadership Theory".

Capitalization for Preposition, Noun, and Conjunction in Title



If you're seeking a clear-cut capitalization rulebook to assist you in adhering to the style guide you're following, we've outlined the capitalization rules for APA, MLA, and Chicago below, ensuring you won't go wrong:

Title Capitalization Rules from Different Style Guides

The styles of APA, MLA, and Chicago are designed to provide clear guidelines for writing and formatting academic papers, articles, and other scholarly works. While they share common principles, such as the importance of clarity, accuracy, and professionalism, their differences become apparent in how they handle specific elements, particularly in terms of capitalization in titles.

1.Title Capitalization in APA Style

APA offers two clear-cut capitalization methods: title case and sentence case. Let's review the rules of title capitalization for APA style to ensure we adhere to the style correctly.

Title Case: Capitalizing the Important Stuff

Title case is all about highlighting the key words in your titles and headings. Here's what gets a capital letter:

  • The first word, even if it's a minor word like "a" or  "the."

  • The first word of a subtitle.

  • The first word after a colon, em dash, or ending punctuation in a heading.

  • Major words, including nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, pronouns, and any word with four or more letters.

  • The second part of hyphenated major words (e.g., "Self-Report").

Capitalization rules for Title Case


Sentence Case: Keeping It Simple

Sentence case is a more relaxed approach, capitalizing only the first word and proper nouns. While rarely used for titles or headings, it might appear in certain instructions or figure captions.

Capitalize Proper Nouns in Sentence Case


When to Use Title Case

Now that you're equipped with the capitalization tools, let's explore where to use them:

  • Titles of essays, research papers, dissertations, and thesis.

  • Headings within your work (Levels 1-5, typically bolded or bold italicized).

  • Titles of referenced works (books, articles, reports) mentioned in your text.

  • Titles of tests or measures (e.g., Beck Depression Inventory–II).

  • Table and figure titles (italicized, along with axis labels and legends).

Knowing title capitalization in APA style is particularly handy when formatting titles in academic papers, articles, essays, reports, and other scholarly works. It's essential for headings and citations alike. APA capitalization guidelines ensure consistency and professionalism in presenting titles within the context of academic writing.

2.Title Capitalization in MLA Style

MLA uses title case for all major words within a title, regardless of whether it's a source you're citing or the title of your own work.

What Gets a Capital Letter?

  • The first word of the title, always.

  • All major words, including nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, pronouns, and any word with four or more letters (e.g., "The" and "After" are capitalized, while "a" and "to" are lowercase).

  • The second part of hyphenated major words (e.g., "Long-Term Effects").

Title Case Rules in MLA Style

Italics vs. Quotation Marks

MLA uses two methods to present titles within your text and Works Cited list, depending on the type of source:

  • Italics: Used for complete works like books, films, journals, or websites.

  • Book: To Kill a Mockingbird

  • Film: The Shawshank Redemption

  • Journal: Journal of Applied Psychology

  • Website: Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

  • Quotation Marks: Surround titles that are part of a larger work, such as chapters in a book, articles in a journal, or webpages.

  • Chapter in a Book: "The American Dream" in The Great Gatsby

  • Article in a Journal: "Climate Change and Its Impacts" in Nature

  • Webpage: "How to Create a Budget" on Investopedia

Remember, the capitalization rules remain the same regardless of italics or quotation marks.

Whether you're referencing a groundbreaking novel like "To Kill a Mockingbird" or citing a captivating news article titled "The Future of AI", MLA title capitalization ensures consistency and clarity in your writing.

3.Title Capitalization in Chicago Style

Chicago Style, a popular choice in various fields, uses a specific approach to title capitalization that might differ from what you're used to. But worry not! Let's break down the rules to ensure your essay titles and headings shine with clarity.

A Headline Approach

Chicago Style follows a headline-style capitalization method, making your titles stand out and grabbing the reader's attention. Here's what gets a capital letter:

  • The first word of the title, always.

  • The last word of the title, even if it's a minor word like "a" or "the".

  • All major words in between, including nouns, pronouns, adjectives, verbs (including phrasal verbs like "play with"), adverbs, and subordinate conjunctions (e.g., "because," "although").

Title Case rules in Chicago Style

Keeping It Lowercase:

While major words get the spotlight, some words take a backseat in Chicago Style:

  • Articles (a, an, the)

  • Coordinating conjunctions (and, but, or, for, nor, so, yet)

  • Prepositions (regardless of length), so even longer prepositions like "throughout" stay lowercase.

  • The second word after a hyphenated prefix (e.g., "Mid-term Exam," "Anti-government").

  • The "to" in an infinitive (e.g., "Learning to Code").

By following these Chicago Style capitalization guidelines, you'll ensure your titles are both informative and visually distinct, adding another layer of professionalism to your academic work.

APA vs. MLA vs. Chicago

The major differences in title capitalization among the style guides—APA, Chicago, MLA, and AP—lie in their treatment of certain words and expressions:

Titles of Works:

  • Chicago and MLA: Capitalize the first and last words and all other important words, regardless of length.

  • APA: Capitalize any word in a title, even a preposition, with five or more letters.

Internet Terms:

  • Chicago, APA, and MLA prefer "Internet" and "World Wide Web" but use "web" and "website".

Color Words for Race:

  • Chicago, and MLA recommend lowercase for "black" and "white" when referring to race, with Chicago allowing authors to capitalize them if preferred.

  • APA suggests capitalizing "Black" and "White".

Using WPS Writer for Effective Headings

WPS Office is widely recognized as the best suite for students for numerous reasons, and one of its standout features is its capability to simplify the process of capitalizing text. With WPS Office, capitalizing text can be made significantly easier through a few simple steps as such:

Step 1: Open your thesis or dissertation in WPS Writer and navigate to a heading that needs capitalization correction.

Step 2: Use your cursor to select the heading or title in your document.

Step 3: Go to the Home tab and click on the "Change Case" icon represented by "Aa".

Change Case icon in WPS Writer


Step 4: Users can now choose from five different options. Remember to consider the capitalization rules discussed in the article before making your selection, then click "OK" to proceed.

Change Case options


Step 5: I decided to proceed with the "Capitalize Each Word" option to change the capitalization of my headings according to my academic requirements.

Title Capitalization in WPS Writer


I find WPS Office the most user-friendly option for students, especially when it comes to capitalizing all letters in a word. Not only is it straightforward to follow formatting styles thanks to the intuitive features of WPS Office, but it's also incredibly easy to use. With just a simple click, WPS Office provides us with options on how to capitalize a title or word, making the process effortless.

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WPS AI: Your Smart Writing Assistant

WPS Office is a student-friendly suite, primarily due to its accessibility—it's free of cost and offers all the essential features students might require. Its compatibility extends across all major operating systems and devices, ensuring seamless usage regardless of the platform. However, the latest addition to the WPS package is what truly sets it apart: the AI spell check feature. This innovative tool goes beyond traditional spell checking, as it not only identifies spelling errors but also corrects tone, fixes title capitalization, and enhances overall coherence and readability of documents.

WPS AI Spell Check


Furthermore, AI plays a significant role in the AI Writer tool integrated into WPS Office. This tool serves as a valuable aid in composing articles by offering suggestions for improvement and ensuring clarity of expression. Additionally, it facilitates translation tasks by assisting in translating works into the target language, further enhancing the versatility and usability of WPS Office for students and professionals alike. With these AI-powered features, WPS Office provides a comprehensive solution for students' academic and writing needs, empowering them to create polished and professional documents effortlessly.

WPS AI

Converting Your Essays to PDF Without Losing Format

After completing your essay or thesis, which likely spanned a significant amount of time, the final step of converting it to PDF can be frustrating. Many PDF converters either demand payment or, worse yet, disrupt the carefully crafted formatting, which is key to your essay's presentation. However, WPS Office offers the best solution in this regard. It's free, and WPS PDF ensures that your formatting remains intact, sparing you the hassle and ensuring a seamless transition to PDF format.

WPS PDF


Here's an easy way for students to change their papers to PDF using WPS Writer:

Step 1: Open your paper in WPS Writer and click on the Menu button in the top-left corner.

Step 2: Next, choose the "Export to PDF" option from the Menu.

WPS Writer Export to PDF option


Step 3: In the Export to PDF dialog box, select "Common PDF" from the "Export Type" dropdown menu, and then click "Export to PDF" to convert your Word document to PDF.

WPS Writer Export to PDF

FAQs About Title Capitalization

Q1. Which words do you not capitalize in a title?

Certain words are not capitalized in titles, regardless of the writing style, such as AP Style, APA, Chicago Manual of Style, or MLA. These include:

  • Articles (a, an, the): These are not capitalized unless they are the first word of the title.

  • Prepositions: Most prepositions (such as "in," "on," "of," "by," "with," etc.) are not capitalized unless they are the first or last word of the title.

  • Conjunctions: Conjunctions (like "and," "but," "or," "nor," "for," "yet," and "so") are typically not capitalized unless they are the first or last word of the title.

Q2. Is “not” capitalized in a title?

The word "not" is capitalized in titles according to all style guides because it functions as an adverb.

Q3. How can I batch-change all the capitalizations on my reference page?

Yes, changing all the capitalizations on your reference page can easily be accomplished using the AI spell check feature in WPS Writer:

Step 1: Open the document in WPS Writer.

Step 2: Navigate to the Review tab and click on the "AI Spell Check" feature in the review ribbon.

Step 3: The AI spell check feature will open on the right side of the WPS Writer interface. Click on the "Set Goals" button on the AI Spell Check window.

Step 4: Now, set some goals by selecting the "Academic" option under "Domain".

Step 5: Once you've chosen "Academic”, select the format you're following, such as "APA",  "MLA", "Chicago", or "Other". After selection, WPS AI spell check will highlight all headings with incorrect capitalization.

Effortless Capitalization: Simplify Your Writing with WPS AI

The rules of title capitalization for students are simple to grasp. However, it's natural to forget these rules over time. WPS AI serves as an invaluable tool in this regard. Even if you happen to forget the rules, WPS AI remembers them for you. The AI checker meticulously scans through your text, ensuring that your capitalization adheres to the formatting standards you're employing. With WPS Office and its AI capabilities, you can streamline your work processes more effectively, eliminating the need to stress over title capitalization and other formatting nuances. Get WPS Office today to enhance your productivity and streamline your workflow effortlessly.

15 years of office industry experience, tech lover and copywriter. Follow me for product reviews, comparisons, and recommendations for new apps and software.