Titles: Sentence style or headline style?

In this post I’ll talk about the capitalization of titles—whether of books, chapters, journal articles, or sections in your blog.

If you are (or will soon be) writing papers for a college class, this will help you sort out the rules for quoting titles of books and articles for your bibliography or list of references.

We’ll discuss the two styles for capitalizing titles: sentence style and headline style.

(As an aside, if you’re quoting a title of a book or an article in a bibliography or a list of references, follow these rules regardless of how the title is actually capitalized in the original work.)

Sentence style

In sentence style capitalization, only the first word of the title is capitalized, and of course all proper names—the same way you would capitalize a sentence. (In my examples I don’t include a period. In a bibliography or a list of references, you would add a period at the end.)

In the likeness of God

A subtitle—if there is one—is also capitalized sentence style. The format is: title, colon, subtitle.

Not a chance: The myth of chance in modern science & cosmology

Cracking Da Vinci’s code: The hidden agenda unveiled

Sentence style is used for titles of books and articles in a list of references (see my post on the author-date method of citation). It’s also a good style to use if you have many long titles in your document.

You’ll notice that I use sentence style for the title and the section headings of this post. Like Chicago†, I am a “down” style kind of guy: too many capitals make me uncomfortable. (Queen Victoria, as we saw last time, clearly was “up” style—see the first footnote to my previous post.)

Headline style

In headline style capitalization, on the other hand, all the major words of the title are capitalized. Headline style is commonly used for quoting titles of books and articles in the text of a document, as well as for titles of books and articles in a bibliography (which is different from a list of references).

Here are the rules for capitalizing words using headline style:

(1) always capitalize the first and last word (both of the title and the subtitle), and capitalize all major words (nouns, pronouns, adjectives, adverbs, verbs)

The Marriage You’ve Always Dreamed Of.

(2) lowercase all articles (the, an, a)

Not a Chance

For the Birds

(3) lowercase the conjunctions and, but, for, or, nor

500 Popular Annuals and Perennials for American Gardeners

(4) lowercase all prepositions regardless of length, unless they are used as adverbs or adjectives (or part of a verb phrase)

The Holiness of God

The Bible in Translation


Bringing Up Boys

(5) for hyphenated words, capitalize the first element; capitalize the second element only if it’s a proper name or adjective.*

The Non-Semitic Languages of Ethiopia.

Computer tip

To quickly capitalize a word that’s lower case, highlight the word, hold down the Shift key and press F3. The first time, it may change the word to all-caps. If so, press F3 again (while still holding down the Shift key). You can do this with a whole phrase as well but it will capitalize every word so you may have to change individual words back afterwards.

Go for it!

Ready to give it a try? Capitalize the following book titles first in sentence style and then in headline style.

1. what perennial where: the creative guide to choosing the best perennials for every area of your garden

2. first aid & cpr manual: a practical guide for first aid & cpr at home and at work

3. creatures that glow: a book about bioluminescent animals

4. what wives wish their husbands knew about women: the popular host of focus on the family talks about marriage

5. where is god when it hurts?

See my answers below.

Today’s post was compiled from articles in The Chicago Manual of Style. See paragraphs 8.164–167 in the 15th edition or paragraphs 8.155–157 in the 16th edition.

Image at top courtesy of Free Digital Photos.

*There’s a more complex alternative where the other elements are capitalized if they are major words etc.

Chicago is my shorthand for The Chicago Manual of Style.


Sentence style:

1. What perennial where: The creative guide to choosing the best perennials for every area of your garden

2. First aid & CPR manual: A practical guide for first aid & CPR at home and at work

3. Creatures that glow: A book about bioluminescent animals

4. What wives wish their husbands knew about women: The popular host of Focus on the Family talks about marriage

5. Where is God when it hurts?

Headline style:

1. What Perennial Where: The Creative Guide to Choosing the Best Perennials for Every Area of Your Garden

2. First Aid & CPR Manual: A Practical Guide for First Aid & CPR at Home and at Work

3. Creatures That Glow: A Book about Bioluminescent Animals

4. What Wives Wish Their Husbands Knew about Women: The Popular Host of Focus on the Family Talks about Marriage

5. Where Is God When It Hurts?

Questions? Comments? Use the “comment” button.

Crediting sources: The author-date method

Crediting sources is an important element of writing.

In today’s post, I describe one method that’s common in the humanities. Chicago* calls it the author-date system.

Here is a quick overview. (Today’s examples are from a linguistic article I wrote about Tigrinya for the Journal of African Languages and Linguistics.)


The author-date method of crediting sources has two main components:

• A list of references at the back of the book (or at the end of the article), which gives the full reference details of the sources.

• Parenthetical notes in the text, which correspond to the relevant entries in the references by citing the author and date (and the page number(s) if needed).

For example, an entry in the references might read as follows:†

Bossong, Georg. 1991. Differential object marking in Romance and beyond. In                Current Issues in Linguistic Theory, Dieter Wanner and Douglas A. Kibbee (eds.), 69: 143-170. Philadelphia: John Benjamins Publ. Co.

In the text a corresponding note might read:

This phenomenon, known as differential object marking (DOM), is attested in about 300 genetically diverse languages (Bossong 1985, VIII).

Let’s get into the specifics regarding the format of both the references and the notes.

The reference list

• Title it “References” or “Works Cited” (not “Bibliography,” because a bibliography generally includes works not cited in the document).

• List all works referred to either in the text or in the footnotes.

• List only those works referred to in the document (whether in the text or in the footnotes).

• Invert the author’s (or editor’s) name and alphabetize the list by authors’ (and editors’) last names.‡

Comrie, Bernard. 1981. Language universals and linguistic typology: Syntax and morphology. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Givón, Talmy. 1978. Definiteness and referentiality. In Universals of Human Language, Joseph Greenberg (ed.), 4: 291-330. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

Mason, John, ed. 1994. Tigrinya grammar. Lawrenceville, NJ: First Red Sea Press, Inc.

• Indicate the year of publication immediately following the author’s name.

Comrie, Bernard. 1981. Language universals and linguistic typology: syntax and morphology. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

• Separate the parts of the entry with periods (see examples above).

The notes

• In parentheses, give the author’s last name followed by the year of publication and, if required, a page number. A comma and space separate the year and the page number.

Foundational to our study of DOM is the following observation from Comrie’s study of language universals (Comrie 1981, 121).

• If the name of the author is already mentioned in the sentence, it is not necessary to repeat it in the note.

The paper will assess the contribution of Tigrinya to the universal tendencies of DOM as posited by Aissen (2003).

This agrees with Aissen’s observation (2003, 436n3) that topicality is also relevant to DOM.

Weldeyesus (2004, 6) claims that Tigrinya has a split pronoun system.

• With direct quotations, the note normally appears after the quotation and before a final punctuation mark.

These findings contradict another claim by Weldeyesus, namely that “the two related object-marking phenomena always coexist” (Weldeyesus 2004, 10).

• If it sounds natural in the flow of the sentence, the note may be placed before the quotation.

Mason (1994, 79) too states, “When it [nɨ-] is used, the verb will have a pronoun suffix that corresponds to the object.”

Final note for editors

If you’re editing a document that uses the author-date system, it’s very important to cross-check the notes and references. Here’s a checklist:

1) Check to make sure that each note (both in the text itself and in the footnotes) has a corresponding entry in the references.

Whenever I encounter a note, I highlight the corresponding entry in the references; by the time I’ve worked my way through the whole document, all references should be highlighted. I compile a list of any notes without corresponding entries in the references. I send this list to the author and ask him to supply the needed references.

2) Check to make sure that each entry in the references is referred to somewhere in the document, either in the text or in the footnotes.

Any references that are not highlighted after step (1) are in trouble. I ask the author what he wants to do: either remove these entries or, if he really wants to keep them, to make an explicit reference to them somewhere in the document.

3) While checking off the notes against the references, make sure that the note and the corresponding reference match exactly in the spelling of the author’s name and the date.

Again, note any discrepancies and question the author if necessary.

*Chicago=The Chicago Manual of Style

†The reference examples should be indented after the first line but unfortunately I haven’t figured out how to do that in this blog.

‡In a work by two or more authors, invert only the first author’s names: Waltke, Bruce K. and M. O’Connor (1990). An introduction to Biblical Hebrew syntax. Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns.

Image at top courtesy of Free Digital Photos.