Capitalization in Headlines & Subject Lines

Fix yo grammar.
Fix yo grammar.

Lately I’ve seen some inconsistencies between who is capitalizing what in certain subject lines and titles.

So, stop. It’s grammar time!

Opinions are divided across stylebooks on what words should be capitalized, but throughout my career I’ve been able to develop a universally-accepted, three-rule guideline:

  1. Always capitalize the first and last word of the subject line/title (you all are perfect with this rule.)
  2. Capitalize any and all words that are four or more letters in length
  3. Do NOT capitalize conjunctions (and, or, but, nor, yet, so, for), articles (a, an, the) and short prepositions (in, to, of, at, by, up, for, off, on).

Here’s a quiz I pulled off the World Wide Web to test you on these rules. Which words do you think should be capitalized in these titles/subject lines?

  • made to stick: why some ideas survive and others die
  • the story factor: inspiration, influence, and persuasion through the art of storytelling
  • fierce conversations: achieving success at work and in life, one conversation at a time
  • a funny thing happened on the way to the boardroom: using humor in business speaking

Think on it …

Still thinking ….

Do you know which words to uppercase yet?

Ok, let’s test those skills:

Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die (to is a short preposition; and is a conjunction)

  • The Story Factor: Inspiration, Influence, and Persuasion Through the Art of Storytelling (through is a preposition, but is capitalized because it is greater than four letters)
  • Fierce Conversations: Achieving Success at Work and in Life, One Conversation at a Time (one is capitalized because it is an adjective)
  • A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Boardroom: Using Humor in Business Speaking

The most common errors I see are with short words that are not conjunctions, articles, or prepositions. Words such as one, it, its, it’s, him, and own should all be capitalized no matter where they appear in a title.

I hope this helps! Next week a note on prepositions? Email me to let me know what you have questions about.

BONUS: Did you know there’s a name for the the “dot, dot, dot” … you see in emails and other correspondence? It’s called an ellipses (eee-lip-seas), and is used most frequently in writing when summarizing quotations.

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