Title Case v Sentence case

Tom_Davidson's picture

Someone asked for an 'authoritative' statement on the preference of sentence case in headings:
This is a sample of sentence case

as opposed to the use of title case:
This Is A Sample Of Title Case

As a UK typographer, the rule is sentence case, and has near enough been a given in typography. I wonder if anyone can point me in the direction of an authoritative source that a friend can use in an argument.

The argument is between US and UK style, I think.


1985's picture

Phil Baines is in favour of sentence case in the style guide at the back of his book Type and typograhpy.

kentlew's picture

This doesn't help your case: When the Washington Post redesigned last October, they changed their headline style to sentence case (also referred to as "downstyle"), much to the dismay of some oldtimers.

Don McCahill's picture

> This Is A Sample Of Title Case

> This is a Sample of Title Case

If the first is Title case, what is the second, which is what I would prefer to see in a title, with smaller words of low import in lower case.

Paul Cutler's picture

Don, isn't the first called start case and the second title case?

In general, I prefer your second example, although you never know what is more effective until you know what words are involved.

I use this for headlines and sometimes taglines.


Chris Dean's picture

Deja-vu. Here is an old post from a "research questions" discussion thread from a type facebook group I have. If you'd like to join you can find me at facebook.com/readthetype. The group is "invisible" to give people a little more privacy.

1. Downstyle

Down style means capitalizing only the first word and proper nouns, typically applied to titles. For example:

This is a title in down style — Microsoft Word calls this "sentence case"

This Is A Title In Up Style — Microsoft Word Calls This "Title Case"

Here is a paragraph set in up style:

Don't You Find This Annoying To Read? Imagine An Entire Book Written This Way. I Highly Doubt That You Would Finish It, Unless Of Course you Were Some Sort Of Typographic Masochist. Perhaps There Is Something Written In Robert Brownjohn's Book Sex And Typography About Typographic Masochism. I Think I Have Made My Point.

Here is the same paragraph set in down style:

Don't you find this annoying to read? Imagine an entire book written this way. I highly doubt that you would finish it, Unless of course you were some sort of typographic masochist. Perhaps there is something written in Robert Brownjohn's book Sex and Typography about typographic masochism. I think I have made my point.

Notice how the the beginning of sentences, the title of the book, it's author and the personal pronoun "I" are more salient?

Typographic convention, and I stress the word *convention*, gives us the following reasons why down style is preferable to up style.

a) 80% of the time words appear set in lowercase letters resulting in a more familiar word shape (bouma).

b) Proper nouns like Your Name get a little more prominence and stand out as the proper nouns that they are.

c) It leaves less chance for a title that breaks on to two lines to be misinterpreted as two separate titles.

d) You don't have to play the "should I capitalize of, it, and, or, the &c ?" game.

There may be others that I am not aware of. I do know however from my time working with bilingual government clients that down style is a common convention used in French.

In cLOsIng, tHIS ArTIcLe aBoUT MiXed CASe MigHt hAVe sOmEthINg TO sAy:

BEsNer, dErEk (1989). ON thE rOlE of oUtliNe shApe aNd woRd-sPeciFIC vIsUaL pATern in ThE idENtIFicatIOn OF fUNCTtiOn wOrdS: nONe. tHE qUaRteRly joURnaL of EXPErimEntal PSYchOLOgy a: HUMAn exPErImeNtal PSYChoLOgy, Vol 41(1-A), Feb 1989. pp. 91-105.


Additional reading:

The science of word recognition by Larson.

Bouma, H. (1973). Visual interference in parafovial recognition of initial and final letters of words. Vision Research, 13, 762–782.

Hailstone M., & Foster J.J. (1967). Studies of the efficiency of drug labeling. The Journal of Typographic Research, 1(3), 275–284.

An old typophile thread Why do CAPITAL LETTERS so annoy us?

Si_Daniels's picture

Word 2010 beta, no reference to title case...

Paul Cutler's picture

All very well Christopher but when you are typesetting a 4-5 word headline (even less if I can manage it), word recognition is not an issue. What is an issue is what words you want to emphasize, like your example of I and proper names. So you do that by case, or color, or different weights, there are many methods.

It's not scientific but it works.

No one in their right mind would use "title case" for extended text.


kentlew's picture

> If the first is Title case, what is the second, which is what I would prefer to see in a title, with smaller words of low import in lower case.

Don, the first is an example of title case as generated by a machine, which can't tell a pronoun from a preposition from an article. Your second example is closer to proper title case (aka headline style).

Proper headline and title writing in upstyle follows rules for which words get capitalized. Generally, prepositions and articles do not get capitalized. Style guides will vary on a few details. Some of the "rules" are admittedly arbitrary and not logically rigorous.

But generally, it has less to do with length of word and more to do with function. Thus, your second example would usually have the is capitalized by most editors I know: "This Is a Sample of Title Case."

Paul Cutler's picture

It all depends on the words, what you are trying to say and especially what you want to hear.

This Is a sample of Title Case

This is a Sample of Title Case

This Is a Sample of Title Case

I like the way the first one sounds, although I would have to know what the message was before I could decide.

I feel the same way about punctuation, unless something is utterly incorrect, and even that can work. Commas are like rests in music, do you want the person to pause, or not? The worst copywriters in my experience are usually English majors, who know all the rules and cannot break them.


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