To cap or not to cap…

UPDATE TO THIS POST: Please see Kristin Coker’s comment on this post—and my reply—for clarification.

A client editor asks an interesting question—and I’m sure there are a bajillion answers to this one:

When doing “upstyle” headlines (capitalizing most or all words in the head), what are the rules?

What words, if any, are not capped? Prepositions, infinitives, conjunctions, articles?

I have one client, for instance, that capitalizes every word in headlines: That way, there’s no confusion and no battles about “the” or “to” or “and” or “in” or “for”…the list is endless.

So, what are your thoughts? What rules do you follow at your place? Your comments, please.

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14 Comments

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14 responses to “To cap or not to cap…

  1. In my opinion, all-cap headlines are not that bad. As long as you know when to use them and when NOT to use them. Some headlines need the impact of an all-cap headline. (Example: ‘DAY OF INFAMY’) But I wouldn’t use them on every headline, that just makes is harder for the reader. But, I will admit that that I do use all-cap headlines in feature page design for purely asthetic reasons. (It makes the page and the story look more eye-catching to the reader.)

    • Kristin:

      Thanks for your comment. I appears I didn’t make myself clear. The question is not about all-caps, but about which words to leave in lower case when you use “upstyle” or “title” style headlines. As in: Democrats Look for Ways to Work with GOP after Massachusetts Defeat (“for,” “to,” “with” and “after” are left in lower case). Or: Democrats Look For Ways To Work With GOP After Massachusetts Defeat (every word capitalized). Are there some words that should be capped and others not? If so, what are the rules?

  2. We capitalize every word so there is no confusion.

  3. I avoid doing ‘upstyle’ caps almost always. I either do all caps (like Kristin wrote) or just the first letter and proper nouns as they apply.

    I was taught that upstyle caps were not to be used at all; granted, I can see some instances where it may be acceptable or look better.

    In terms of all caps, I use it if we have a full page or front photo feature where it’s more of a design decision than a grammar or style issue.

  4. We keep “to” “and” “in” “with” “for” and similar words lowercase unless they are at the beginning of a line.
    For instance, if Ed’s sample headline was two lines deep, the first line would read “Democrats Look for Ways to Work” and the second line would read “With GOP After Massachusetts Defeat.” (We’d keep “after” uppercase no matter where it appeared.)

  5. Dana Tuss

    I once worked at a paper with upstyle heads. In addition to the “of” “the” “and” words, we also capped every word that appeared at the end of a line and every word that appeared at the beginning of a line. I can see the word at the beginning looking better capped but never understood the word at the end of a line.

  6. We do like Michael: the first letter and proper terms. Capitalizing the little words bugs me, for reasons I can’t quite articulate.

  7. We capitalize the first letter of the first word and all proper names in headlines. I think this style is a nice, clean look and “flows better” for reading than capitalizing every word. We do use the occasional all-caps head (every letter) but almost always with a short head (centered), then a subhead in regular style.

  8. Marc Stumbo

    My style for a long time has been first word and proper nouns/names in title case, the rest l/c. Every word title capped to me is distracting. I use title case in large kicker headlines and then only prepositions are in lower case … easier to be consistent.

  9. Will C. Franklin

    We could be pioneers and lowercase the first letter of every word, but uppercase the rest of the word? Sorry, work is killing me and figured I’d try my hand at a joke. In all seriousness, we cap the first word in the sentence, proper nouns and names and that’s it. Easy and keeps folks happy.

  10. I’m actually the “client editor” to whom the lovely and talented Mr. Henninger is referring…

    We have a style that’s an odd combination of the above suggestions. We actually capitalize “to” when it’s part of the verb (“Mayor To Resign on Tuesday”) but not when it’s a preposition (“Mayor Gives Check to Kid”). We also lowercase prepositions of four letters or less, but capitalize longer ones (Through, Between).

    Does anyone follow similar rules? I’m curious. I also know, in some limited experience with book publishing, that the “to” is always lowercase in titles there.

    Thanks for the help–and I’d welcome any more you can offer…

    (P.S. I’m not a fan of initial caps in headlines, but I was outvoted by my editors.)

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