Pro Writing: HeaDLinE GraMMaR – How to Capitalize and Why You Should

Headline Grammar

I’m not one of those people who points out grammar mistakes to people – thank God. Have you ever encountered them? They point out little mistakes like the difference between there and their and they’re when you’re writing something as simple as a Facebook comment. In my opinion, if the words are understandable, then they’re fine. Sure, they don’t make for the best reading or writing, but at least they’re readable. But, when it get’s to the point that I’m having to try and decipher what you’re saying, it’s gone too far.

One thing that I see a lot of out there is blog post titles that don’t have correct capitalization. It’s not a huge deal, because people can read your headline whether it’s capitalized or not. But, capitalization just lets people know that your title is a title, that it’s important, and that they should take notice and read it. If your title is capitalized only at the beginning like a sentence, what makes it stand out as important? Not much.

And, the biggest problem is that most people don’t even realize they are doing this. If you have a blog, like mine, where titles have some sort of styling, you might not even realize that your titles are wrong. My titles are automatically capitalized because of the font I use, so you can’t tell one way or another when you look at my page. But, when I post a link to Facebook or Twitter and it automatically pulls my headline title from my post, the capitalization shows. So, here are a few rules to remember when writing a title, because doing more to help your readers notice and understand your content is never a bad thing!

Headline Grammar

Capitalize First and Last

Here is one rule you can never break – the first word needs to be capitalized. Just like a sentence, it signals the beginning of the phrase and is absolutely necessary. Luckily, that is one that most people are aware of and do automatically.

Another rule is that if your title contains a colon or dash (like the title of this post does) you should always capitalize the word directly after it, because it’s kind of like the beginning of another sentence.

Yet another rule is that the last word of the title should be capitalized, so that it signals the end of the title. This even applies if that last word is something small like ‘to’.

Wrong: headline Grammar – knowing What to Add Capitalization to
Right: Headline Grammar – Knowing What to Add Capitalization To

Capitalize Important Words

The most general rule of titles is that you should capitalize important words. This includes proper nouns like names and places (just as you would in a normal sentence) but also words that are vital to the meaning of the title. In reality, this is most of the words in a title. It’s safer to capitalize all the words in a title and then look at the exceptions, rather than not capitalizing something you should.

Wrong: headline grammar – knowing What to capitalize
Right: Headline Grammar – Knowing What to Capitalize

Don’t Capitalize

In general, what I like to call ‘joining’ words don’t have to be capitalized (unless they are first or last). This includes words like the, and, if, in, but, or, and many more that just bridge the meaning of other words together. They aren’t big or vital to the meaning of the sentence, they just make it grammatically correct, and they don’t need to be capitalized.

Wrong: Headline Grammar – Knowing What To Add Capitalization To
Right: Headline Grammar – Knowing What to Add Capitalization To

Capitalize Headers

In the same way that you capitalize your post title, you should also be capitalizing your headers. Whatever style you chose for your title, apply to all the headers throughout your posts. This is a rule that I break fairly often without even realizing it, especially because my headers automatically capitalize.

Here is a really neat tool that shows you how to capitalize sentences based on the style you choose. You just type in your title and it automatically capitalizes the proper words for you as you go.

Of course, there are exceptions to these rules. Style and grammar are sometimes subjective, and when it comes to capitalization you can choose for yourself. The only hard rule is that the first letter of the title needs to be capitalized (just like in a sentence) but other than that you can do what you want. Some people choose to write their titles like a sentence and only capitalize the first word and ones that are normally capitalized like names and places. Some people choose to capitalize every word, even ones like And and The. As long as you keep your choices consistent throughout every title, and you know why you’re making these choices, then you’ll be fine. It’s inconsistent capitalization or incorrect use of one style that makes your titles look like you did something wrong.

What bugs you about capitalization? What parts of your titles do you capitalize?

7 thoughts on “Pro Writing: HeaDLinE GraMMaR – How to Capitalize and Why You Should”

    1. That’s so true Emily! Regardless of someone’s niche, seeing errors in the grammar makes you think that they might not have the authority over the content that they claim to have! Good point.

  1. “To,” despite being a preposition, is a word that SHOULD be capitalized, even though it usually isn’t. Just a tip!

    1. I think technically you can leave ‘to’ lowercase when it’s a preposition, and you only need to capitalize it when it’s part of the infinitive. But it’s a matter of preference depending on what style you choose!

  2. I can’t tell you how helpful this is right now! I’ve been agonizing over this very topic for some time now and I’ve defaulted to just capitalizing every word in my blog post title. Thanks for sharing that tool as well!

    1. Thank you Jenn! It was a struggle for me at one point too but now capitalizing the right way has become an almost automatic part of every blog post! Thanks for reading!

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