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Sentence case v title case

I was talking to a team member the other day about the pros and cons of using sentence case or title case in headings.

Quick refresher:

Sentence case is when you only capitalise the first letter of the  first word in a heading – like you would in a sentence. Proper nouns also have a capital.

With title case you capitalise the first letter of each word.

This Is Title Case.

Even though there isn’t a hard and fast rule over which style is better for the web, my personal preference is for sentence case. Here’s why:

  • There is some evidence to show that the use of capital letters slows the ability for people to scan content – it breaks the flow.
  • Sites that use title case often use it inconsistently. Sometimes You Get This. But Sometimes you Get This. Sentence case is far easier to teach, implement and apply quality control. (Great if you’ve got a decentralised authoring model.)
  • Breadcrumbs in sentence case are far easier to scan – you can easily see the different levels of navigation. For example: Home > About us> Corporate profile > Management team.
  • If you do a lot of work for government or universities, there is a trend towards minimal capitalisation for all publishing – a style that they carry to the web.

What does everyone else think?

{ 48 comments… add one }
  • Writer Dad April 15, 2009, 8:11 am

    I vastly prefer sentence case. I think it looks a LOT prettier, and I agree with you, I think it breaks the flow.

    Writer Dad’s last blog post..I’m a Writer

    • Snappy Sentences April 15, 2009, 7:42 pm

      Thanks Sean – hey, I like your new site!
      Cheers
      Sally

  • dana strong April 22, 2009, 7:43 pm

    Interesting. You support your case for sentence case well.

    dana strong’s last blog post..Web Writing Principle #2: Make it actionable

    • Snappy Sentences April 22, 2009, 8:13 pm

      Thanks Dana
      I think it’s also from years of frustration as a web editor seeing title case abused!
      Cheers

  • Samar April 29, 2009, 10:25 pm

    I wasn’t convinced till I read ” Sometimes You Get This. But Sometimes you Get This.”

    All my arguments for the title case were silenced because when using title case I often have to keep my eyes open for it’s proper use.

    Samar’s last blog post..What Travelling Means to a Freelancer

    • Snappy Sentences April 30, 2009, 7:11 pm

      Thanks Samar. I guess my point of view comes from many years of editing websites, and the mish-mash use of title case! Cheers.

    • Andrew Fraser February 15, 2017, 8:12 pm

      Oops. Apostrophe catastrophe, surely, Samar? 🙂

  • Marc - WelshScribe May 6, 2009, 1:59 am

    Interesting. I prefer the look of Title Case myself. Now maybe that’s just a “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” thing or maybe not. I mean there’s a reason why copywriters use title case in their writing right?

    I can’t find any specific advice from Copyblogger on it but Brian does have a series of posts teaching us the art of title writing all while making extensive (and consistent) use of title case.

    Marc – WelshScribe’s last blog post..Afternoon Reading | Link Love Friday

    • Snappy Sentences May 6, 2009, 8:31 pm

      Hi Marc
      Thanks for the comment.

      Yes, personal preference does come down to it – and many sites do make good, consistent use of title case (Copyblogger is one of my faves). Title case is the traditional style for newspaper headlines and naturally has been carried across to the web – so yes there are a heap of copywriters out there who still use title case.

      I think the big trend for sentence case has come from larger organisations (government, large educational bodies) who like to write for a low reading age (because that’s a lot of the target audience). Sentence case is familiar, easy to scan, and easy to implement. I’m won over 🙂

      So maybe we agree to disagree?

  • Marc - WelshScribe May 7, 2009, 11:44 pm

    I had no idea on the low reading age market, thanks for the insight.

    Agree to disagree we shall. I’ve been brought up with Title Case so my hardwired brain actually finds them easier than sentence case to scan.

  • stjanigunnars June 17, 2009, 12:40 am

    Hi, I’ve seen evidence “that the use of capital letters slows the ability for people to scan content” but thats only for ALL CAPITAL LETTERS.
    ALL CAPS looks like you are screaming and is usually a bad idea ( )

    Are the evidence you are referring to based on Start Case / Title Case or ALL CAPS?

    I agree with your observation in breadcrumbs. The other 2 points don’t have that much wight in my opinion.

  • Catherine Caine January 3, 2010, 2:30 pm

    I’m all for sentence case. I think it scans better, it’s easier to use, and it feel less self-important than title case.

    • Snappy Sentences January 4, 2010, 7:08 am

      Totally agree, thanks for stopping by Catherine 🙂

  • Karen Ong January 29, 2010, 3:55 am

    I am bugged that we don’t have consistent use of capitalization on our site. We just had a debate on whether to use sentence case or title case for our site, so I looked online and found your post! I am convinced. Using sentence case makes it so much easier to enforce consistency.

    • Snappy Sentences January 29, 2010, 9:17 am

      That’s excellent Karen! I’m glad I was able to help. On large sites (like yours), the worst thing that you can do is be inconsistent. So whatever you decide, just make sure you have the support in place so that the style is followed by all of your authors.
      Cheers

  • Miranda Forwood March 18, 2010, 9:17 am

    Hi Sally,

    I was just googling this issue to have some documentation to back up my opinion that sentence case should be used and this article was the top result! Nice work! (and I totally agree).

    Miranda

  • Boštjan Mejak October 20, 2010, 5:38 am

    Title case is very ackward. You said that proper nouns also have a capital in the title case. But there’s more to it. Words like ‘for’ and ‘by’ and ‘a’ and ‘an’ and ‘the’ and such have to be written lowercase in a title case.

    Example of a correct title case: Young Girl Attacked by a Ferocious Dog

    I agree with you and prefer sentence case myself as well.

  • Piero July 22, 2011, 9:03 am

    Agree totally with your points re sentence case.

    One other benefit is that capitalised brand names and proper nouns are more prominent in sentence case headings, which I think makes it easier for the reader to glean meaning from the sentence (especially with the scanning/skimming habits of online reading).

    Note: UK and Australian news sites typically use sentence case headlines

  • Brian Bozic August 30, 2011, 9:54 pm

    You’ll probably find that most US newspapers also use sentence case for headings too.

    Check out the following:
    San Diego Union-Tribune
    San Francisco Chronicle
    Boston Globe
    USA Today
    Philadelphia Inquirer
    Los Angeles Times
    Dallas Morning News
    Denver Post

    I’d be very interested to know if there is peer-reviewed research on the topic. I remember reading once (but not sure where) that capital letters do interrupt the flow as they are signifiers of importance, and the eye pauses to allow the brain to focus on what that importance is.

    I also find it aesthetically more pleasing to use sentence case

    • Snappy Sentences September 1, 2011, 8:09 am

      Hi Brian

      It’s an interesting topic for sure. When I first wrote this post, the general consensus was that capital letters did slow down reading. Since then I’ve read that ALL CAPS slows down reading, but title case doesn’t (or it’s such a small reduction that it’s hardly worth mentioning). The human brain still recognises the shapes of the words.

      Susan Weinschenk has an article about it on her website: It’s a Myth That All Capital Letters Are Inherently Harder to Read.

      Even so, I still prefer sentence case, and advocate it for my clients. From a consistency point of view it’s much easier to manage, and I personally think it looks better.

      Cheers

  • Abraham September 28, 2011, 9:34 pm

    i wanted to know whether prepositions in title case need to be in capital letters or small letters.

    for example:
    As of Date / As Of Date
    Engagement as of Date / Engagement As Of Date

  • Star October 18, 2011, 7:34 am

    Abraham, the prepositions need to be in small letters.

    • Snappy Sentences October 18, 2011, 7:40 am

      Actually, that isn’t set in stone. I’ve seen title case rules which have all words start with a capital, and some which don’t capitalise prepositions. That’s why it’s such a hard guideline to follow. There’s a good breakdown of different variations of title case at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Letter_case#Headings_and_publication_titles

  • Abraham October 18, 2011, 1:50 pm

    thanks Snappy, thats an excellent informative reference material..

  • Carlin May 3, 2012, 4:23 pm

    Interesting. I do a lot of clerical work both on and off of the computer, and I find the use of title case far easier to read. I can much more easily locate and remember a title that was written with the important words capitalized than one that was written as a sentence.

    • Snappy Sentences May 7, 2012, 2:24 pm

      Hi Carlin

      A lot of it is personal preference (and I have nothing against title case). From my perspective sentence case is easier to maintain when you need to have material consistent across channels. Especially when you have multiple authors.

      Cheers
      Sally

  • Nick May 24, 2012, 12:08 am

    Sentence case is preferred in British English, and there are practical reasons why. Avoiding confusion is the main one.

    California Schools Tackle Coke Addiction
    California schools tackle Coke addiction

    There are probably better examples, but I think this gives the idea.

    • Snappy Sentences June 5, 2012, 11:52 am

      Ha, love the example.

  • Sandro Ballagio June 11, 2012, 7:36 pm

    So, who originally adopted title case, and why? Maybe traditional typographers, because it makes headings stand out more from body text.
    They had some sound design concepts.

    • Snappy Sentences June 21, 2012, 11:01 am

      Hi Sandro
      I’m not sure. So many of these elements evolve over time (and different styles come in and out of fashion).

  • Maddie March 14, 2013, 9:21 am

    You are right, sentence case it is for me too. It is easier to maintain consistency 🙂
    Maddie recently posted…Kava & KarmaMy Profile

  • Mark McKay May 17, 2014, 1:18 pm

    I strongly prefer Title Case over Sentence case. The sequence of words in question form constituent. As such, the capitalization signals the start and end of the constituent. For example, you can say “go to Find Out More”, or “click on the Find Out More link” without having to underline or add quotes.

    This is an orthographic consideration, but it applies prosodically as well. Think about how you would say the examples above; there’s a natural pause just before you start speaking the constituent, and another when it concludes.

    As far as simplicity, the words that are not capitalized in Title Case are from closed word classes (articles, conjunctions, prepositions). Keep in mind that some words are members of multiple word classes depending on the meaning/usage (polesemy), which means sometimes they will be capitalized, and sometimes not. This still conveys information to the reader.

    Language is complicated. We can attempt to simplify it, but if we oversimplify it, we actually swing the pendulum to complicated again.

  • Cameron Clare November 28, 2014, 5:07 pm

    I think it’s a personal choice.

    Here in Australia, it seems that most of the news websites go with sentence case in their titles. It’s my personal preference too.

    I’m not sure why it’s my personal preference – of course in school we were always taught to use title case. But, I just don’t see the purpose of using an uppercase character in a title such as … I dunno:

    “The best way to use iCloud in Windows.” To me, it looks odd as:
    “The Best Way to Use iCloud in Windows.”

    But hey. I also support the Oxford comma, and I also don’t have a problem with beginning a sentence with “but.” If it’s warranted.

    Or fragments. 😉

    Cam

  • Clinton Forry January 24, 2015, 5:28 am

    Hi Sally!

    I just happened upon this post while doing some research on case for site navigation. It’s just the thing I was looking for.

    Thanks!
    Clinton Forry recently posted…Lead With the Message, Not the FormatMy Profile

    • Snappy Sentences January 24, 2015, 10:35 am

      Glad you found it useful Clinton 🙂

  • Kim February 24, 2015, 4:01 am

    I really HATE the look of title case. Sentence case, on the other hand, rocks.

  • Shifra October 28, 2015, 3:24 am

    I’m guess I’m breaking the strictest rule you’ve listed. (“Be consistent!”) I’m working on a long document (book length) that has different levels of headings. On the Heading levels 1-3 I’ve been using title case, and for levels 4 and above, I’ve used sentence case. How bad does this sound? The document will probably be printed, and may also appear online. Does that make any difference?

  • ben January 14, 2016, 11:22 am

    I prefer title casing however only capitalising nouns and not joiners… ie Integrated Management Systems for Microsoft Users

  • Llew February 19, 2016, 3:08 pm

    I have split opinions on the matter. I think for major headings title case is the way to go. But so often I see it leak into the body of the text. Which just looks disgusting; e.g. Hello People How Are You Today? Did You Know I Like Tomatoes? As you can see it looks quite bad when used in that way.

  • Randall King August 4, 2016, 12:01 pm

    I work in the IT support field and do technical writing a lot (knowledge base). We use sentence case over title case because it avoids ambiguity. With title case, it can sometimes be unclear when a proper noun begins or ends; sentence case clears things up.

    I wish I had an example I could use for training purposes in our organization. (That’s what I was searching for when I found your site.) If anyone has one, please share.

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