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Editing Tip for August 2016

letter magnetsI don’t know about you, but I always have trouble remembering if certain words should be capitalized when in a title. Also, what is capitalized depends on the style of writing you’re doing. Journalists do it one way, creative writers another, academics a third way. About the only capitalization rules that are consistent include:

  • capitalize the first word
  • capitalize all proper nouns

Some styles say always capitalize the first and last words. Other styles require capitalization of all nouns (boy, dog, house, tree), pronouns (we, they, his), verbs (run, write, play), adverbs (quietly, quickly), and adjectives (beautiful, green, small) and lowercase all conjunctions (and, but, or), articles (a, the, an), and prepositions (at, of, with).

Now, where I have the problem is with prepositions. Short prepositions such as at, of, with, and so forth are fine, but longer prepositions like through, about, beneath, toward, during don’t look right to me when lowercased. Here, I choose to follow the rule that says capitalize all words that have five or more letters regardless of the part of speech. The important part isn’t necessarily the rule; following it consistently is.

You might want to check out a handy title capitalization tool called Capitalize My Title I found the other day. With it, you type in your title, pick the style you want to follow, and voila, it tells you what words should be capitalized and which ones shouldn’t. If you scroll down on the site, it will give you the rules from the various style guides. Pretty cool, huh?

Here are some examples from Capitalize My Title:

  • Diving Beneath the Raging Sea (default)
  • Diving Beneath the Raging Sea (American Psychological Association)
  • Diving beneath the Raging Sea (Chicago Manual of Style)
  • Diving Beneath the Raging Sea (Associated Press)
  • Diving beneath the Raging Sea (Modern Language Association)

Other sites, including Title Cap and Headline Capitalization, are similar in function. All sites have ads, but they aren’t too intrusive. (Note: sometimes I found I had to retype the title or click in the title field to make it switch results between styles.)

Try out these tools and see what you think. Next time you can’t remember if about should be capitalized, look it up in your style guide or use one of these sites to do it for you.


photo credit: i watched your grammar explode, scott richard via photopin (license)


  • Marjorie
    Posted August 29, 2016 at 3:29 pm

    Great tool–thanks!

  • Diane Gosheff
    Posted August 29, 2016 at 5:40 pm

    This sounds like a invaluable aid to writers. Thank you for investigating it and sharing with us.

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