Capitalization in titles and headings

When capitalizing titles and section headings, you need to know the two standard styles: Title case and sentence case, which can also be combined.

That means you can either capitalize all the essential words, only the first word, or combine the two for a third option when writing an essay or a research paper.

Three common methods

Title case

You must capitalize every significant word if you are using title case. Here is a list of significant words that should be capitalized in this style:

Although the list above provides a list of significant words, it is still not an exhaustive list, and it is much easier to focus on what is not considered significant. So, unless they are the first word in a heading, do not capitalize:

You can use the table below as an example of a table of contents with chapter and section headings written in the title case.


Sentence case

A sentence case is much easier than using a title case. You only need to capitalize the first word of your title or section heading (e.g. Capitalization in titles and headings).

Sentence case resembles the way we communicate via emails, texts, or letters. As it is more natural, your writing might seem more approachable to your reader.

sentence case

The combination method

Capitalization in titles and headings
As a last option, you can combine the two styles and use different cases in different levels of headings. For example, you could use the title case option for your chapter headings and the sentence case option for the lower-level headings.

What is the right option for you?

Different academic writing styles (e.g. APA, MLA) have different capitalization rules that you should follow. It is easier to go with one style of capitalization throughout your paper and not dwell so much on capitalizing your headings.

Capitalizing proper nouns

Regardless of your capitalization style or type of academic paper, you must always capitalize the following:

Some theories, laws, models, and schools of thought are not accepted as proper nouns (e.g. Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences, Maslow’s hierarchy of needs)

Importance of consistency

Consistency is a must to create effective headings. So, whichever option you choose, always pay attention to being consistent during your writing process.

Your table of contents can help you detect any unnoticed inconsistency. This way, you can observe your headings closer and see whether they create an anomaly.

Lastly, make sure that you don’t have other inconsistencies in the formatting, outline, English type, verb tenses, personal pronouns, and the layout of your document as a whole. Proofread your paper.