Monday, March 28, 2011

News Titles: Capitalization

When we went to school we learned to capitalize the first word, last word and every important word in a title. Important words were any noun, pronoun, verb, adjective, or adverb. Words not capitalize din a title unless they were the first or last word of the title were prepositions, articles, conjunctions, and the word "to" (as in "Man Tries to Bite Dog").

That applied whether it was the title of a paper we were writing, the title of a book to which we were referring, or the title of a newspaper article. Somewhere between then and now, the rules have changed.

Both, Yahoo! News, and several other online news publishers prefer titles to be capitalized as if they were an ordinary sentence. They say it is easier and quicker to read. A title which, under the old scheme, would have read "Man Bites 52 Dogs, Kobayashi Wins Oscar Mayer Contest" would now read "Man bites 52 dogs, Kobayashi wins Oscar Mayer contest" for either or Yahoo! News. For news articles intended for publication directly on the Yahoo! Contributor Network (Y!CN), however, the first version (all important words) would apply.

In the example above proper nouns, of course, still get capitalized. Oscar Mayer is the name of a company, and Kobayashi is the name of a famous hot dog eating champion, so they both get capitalized. The sentence style capitalization rules make the headline or title easier to read.

To complicate matters even more, the publishing tool on the Y!CN platform automatically converts titles to standard capitalization even if the article is for Yahoo! News. The Examiner publishing tool gives you free rein (or free reign, if you prefer - I don't) to capitalize the title however you wish, right or wrong.

The same capitalization rules apply to stand-alone sub-headings within a news article on these platforms. That is to say that if the above article included a subsection detailing eating contest opponents who have been defeated by Kobayashi, there might be a subheading called: "Eating Champion's Previous Victims" for the Yahoo! Contributor Network or "Eating champion's previous victims" for Examiner or Yahoo! News.


  1. I understand that's the way that want it, but still think it a dumb rule. See no real benefit to it at all.

  2. Well, my thoughts on this are mixed. I think grammatical rules should be non-changing or what's the point. On the other hand, if my title is easier and faster for the reader to process when they see it in a google results page list, then that's an advantage that can help me get more readers. Since this change originated with some pretty high-powered news outfits, I trust that there is actual research showing that it is, indeed, easier and faster to read.

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  4. Usability statistics are heavily investigated and generally reliable, pending "new and improved" studies. I have one my other blog about people's reading's geeky but pertinent for advertising and content placement.

    I think even Examiner provides some basic education on this...which is helpful to writers. Other than the fact one becomes accustom to a certain style, I think sentence-form titles are easier to read.

    The only problem I have with it is that the lack of capitalization makes isolating news content from comments or a generic blog post more difficult at first glance.

    Though in some cases that is beneficial... for it is more inviting.