Title case v sentence case – when should you use capital letters?

One of the issues that often comes up in people’s work is their use of initial capitals, mostly within headings. This depends on whether your document style is for title case or sentence case.

Sentence case

Sentence case means capitalising something as if it were an ordinary sentence. This means the first letter is a capital letter, as well as proper nouns, like people’s names, countries, and official job titles. Otherwise, the first letter of a word is in lower case.

Title case

In title case, every word begins with in initial capital, other than very small words like ‘the’ and ‘and’ (although some people choose to capitalise these, too).

Examples

Sentence case Title case
Environment Secretary seeks further talks on wind farms in Scotland Environment Secretary Seeks Further Talks on Wind Farms in Scotland
Unions fight Cameron on pay rise for nurses Unions Fight Cameron on Pay Rise for Nurses

Notice that ‘Environment Secretary’ is capitalised for both cases, as it a job title, but ‘nurses’ uses an initial lower case letter as it a generic reference to a type of job.

So which should I use in my headings?

Microsoft Word tip: Highlight text and select Shift+F3 to toggle between title case, lower case and upper case

As a general trend, using sentence case is more popular, especially for web content. You’ll notice this website uses sentence case. However, the choice is yours. The important thing is to make sure it’s consistent.

Your publisher or university might have a style guide they need you to conform to, and this issue should be covered in that style guide. If you don’t have a style guide, just make a decision when you start creating your document or manuscript.

When should I use all upper case?

I would rarely recommend writing whole words in capitals. It should certainly never be done for web content and, either way, it’s likely to come across as shouting.

It should be clear from your writing style when something is particularly important. There are also lots of other formatting choices you can do instead. For example, you can use bold text, or underlining (although don’t underline anything on the web that isn’t a link). You could also put the information in a stand-out paragraph, or use a bullet point.

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