Yesterday, I shared a very helpful post on Twitter about how to create your own style sheet. It was by Daphne Gray-Grant - also known as the Publication Coach - who happens to have been my writing coach more than a decade ago. She taught me much of what I know about journalistic writing, and is a must-follow if you're looking to improve your own writing.
Anyways, her post included some great tips. One section that stood out to me as most useful was about headline capitalization. It's very obvious to me that people are confused about which words to capitalize in a headline. I often find great inconsistencies throughout a document or website and, on many occasions, I've noticed that (well-meaning) clients have tinkered with my correctly-capitalized headlines when uploading when uploading content to their sites, rendering them incorrect (or inconsistent) in the process. Gah!
The good news is that headline capitalization it isn't as hard to figure out as most people think. Let's get to the bottom of it, shall we?
Much of this confusion stems from the fact that isn't a single right way to do it - there are a couple of acceptable formats to use. Daphne sums them up simply in her article:
Up-style capitalization, also called headline style, uses capital letters for all major words in a head (e.g., How to Build Your Own Style Sheet); down-style capitalization, also called sentence style, uses lower case (e.g., How to build your own style sheet).
Daphne's preference - and perhaps unsurprisingly my own also - is down-style capitalization, which is the standard newspaper format. I always write my headlines this way, unless a client requests otherwise. Whatever approach YOU choose for your website, blog, or other publication(s), it's important to be consistent.
Here are the rules - and exceptions - for each style:
Up-style capitalization: capitalize the major words in your headline only. Shorter words, including articles (a/an, the), coordinating conjunctions (and, but, or), most prepositions (on, in, at), and 'to' should all be lowercase.
Down-style capitalization: All words should be lower case, with the exception of the first letter of the first word, and any proper names/titles.
See? Not so hard after all. Which style of headline do you use/prefer?
Janet Nielsen is a communicator with a passion for helping small businesses succeed.