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Title Capitalization and You

You’ve got the manuscript written, you’ve got a catchy title, but how do you actually write it properly? Which words do you capitalize? All of them? Some of them?

Here is a primer on title formats.

There are two basic formats for titles.

1. Capitalize the first and last word and all the major words in titles. Major words include nouns (e.g., gel, mouse), adjectives (e.g. small, significant), verbs (e.g., run, deduce), adverbs (e.g., slowly, gently), pronouns (e.g., he, she, it), and subordinating conjunctions (e.g., because, as, that). Minor words, such as articles (the, a/an), prepositions (by, for, etc.) and coordinating conjunctions (and, but, or, etc.), are not capitalized. This style is referred to as title case.

Example: Biochemical Characterization of the WD40 Protein

2. Capitalize the first word but none of the rest, unless a word is a proper noun (e.g., China). This style is referred to as sentence case.

Example: Biochemical characterization of the WD40 protein

In addition, many titles have some elements that can throw you for a loop. For example, do you capitalize after a hyphen? How about after a colon?

Hyphenation in Titles

If you are using title case, the word immediately preceding the hyphen should be capitalized. The word following the hyphen is capitalized, unless it is an article, preposition, or coordinating conjunction. In addition, if the hyphen follows a word that couldn’t be a word by itself, such as “anti” or “pre,” then the word following the hyphen should not be capitalized.


Occurrence of Flesh-Eating Bacteria in North America
Cortisol and the Flight-or-Fight Response
Anti-inflammatory Properties of Turmeric

If you are using sentence case, this issue takes care of itself because none of the words after the first one need capitalization.

Colons in Titles

For title case, the first word after a colon is usually capitalized, even if it is an article, preposition, or coordinating conjunction.


The Re-emergence of Lyme Disease: A Case Study from Lake Erie

General Tips for Formatting Titles

There are a few other things to keep in mind about formatting titles. As always, defer to your target journal’s guidelines for formatting of main titles and subtitles. For example, section titles may need to be in bold or italics, and subsection titles may need to be indented or italicized. Please note different levels of titles may require different formatting. Consistency is important. Choose one title capitalization style and apply it throughout the manuscript. As in the rest of your manuscript, ensure that terms that usually require italicization, such as gene and species names, are italicized in the titles too.

Happy writing!

(Please retain the reference in reprint:

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