March 2, 2009
We often feel uncertain about how to capitalize words in headings. “Should everything be capitalized?” “Isn’t there a rule about not capitalizing articles and prepositions, and what is a preposition anyway?”
There are some very hard and fast rules about how to capitalize English words in sentences. However, when it comes to capitalizing headings, there are only hard and fast suggestions and expectations, but no rules. In the absence of rules, we at least want to be consistent, so publishing organizations have developed style guides that include recommendations on how to capitalize headings. The five style guidelines that influence most of the publications we read include the American Psychological Association Publication Manual (APA), the Canadian Press Stylebook (CP), the Chicago Manual of Style (CMS), the Modern Language Association Handbook (MLA), and the Plain Language Commission (PLC) recommendations. The reason we find capitalizing headings confusing is that each one has different recommendations.
To help us figure out what to do, let’s quickly review the recommendations of each of these style guides, and then finish with some advice from common business writing experience.