It’s an age-old debate. Should your web page headings and navigation titles be in title case, or sentence case?

First, a quick re-cap of what we mean by these terms:

  • Title Case Is Where Each Word Has An Initial Capital.
  • Sentence case is where only the first word is capped, like a regular sentence.

So far, so good.

Title case v sentence case: the great debate

Like starting a sentence with ‘And…’ or ending one with a preposition, a sense of the correctness of either sentence or title case seems to be one of those linguistic maxims we internalise early in our lives and then stick to. Writers and readers alike tend to have a strong preference for one approach or the other, and will defend it vigorously.

For both sides, there’s an obvious right way. But like many rules forged early in life, it’s rarely as cut and dried as it first appears.

The case for Title Case

Title case seems to be especially popular on North American websites, especially those that publish Important Articles. And it’s true that a title case heading on a news story gives it a certain sense of stature and importance. Title case is considered traditional, and that gives it authoritative weight. Perhaps that’s why you often see it on important internal documents or presentations.

Title case can also give headings visual prominence. A capital letter sticks out within a page of regular text, creating a landing-place for the scan-reader’s eye. After all, that’s why we use caps for important things like proper nouns and to mark out the start of a new sentence. They create impact.

Used consistently, title case could act as a visual marker that distinguishes article titles from other copy elements like calls to action or navigation labels.

The case for sentence case

At Sticky Content, we come down firmly in favour of sentence case, for several reasons…

1. Title case is hard to define

Different people have different ideas about what it is. To illustrate:

  •   Title Case is Great for Print
  •   Title Case Is Great For Print

A typographer or proofreader might find it easy to stick to one of these variations. But for most of us, it’s a faff too far. Using sentence case removes the confusion, because there’s only one way to get it right.

2. Cap creep

Capitals are like a hardy, fast-growing plant species introduced into a garden. Once there, they start spreading until they risk choking out all the lower-case words.

Unless you’re strict about it, pruning your caps back so they’re only used for proper nouns and the first words in sentences, things like this can happen: 

The Customer must phone the Bank if there is any suspicion of Credit Card Fraud. For customers of the Super Magic Credit Card Product, please Telephone 0800 123 456.

Seriously. Are you a 21st century marketer, or are you Samuel Pepys?

3. Too much title case kills legibility

We know that capitalisation adds prominence. But like good design and good UX, good digital copywriting relies on balancing the share of prominence between different elements.

After all, not everything on a page can stand out – if you shout about everything, nothing gets heard. Better to stick with methods like bold text, bullet points and sub-headings to add emphasis to the most important bits of your writing.

4. Sentence case mirrors human-to-human communication style

Human beings don’t send each other texts, social updates and emails written in title case – that’s the mark of a corporate voice, someone trying to sell us something or make an official proclamation to a mass audience.

We know that plain, conversational English is one of the lynchpins of good digital copywriting. We need to create a feeling of dialogue, of addressing our readers directly in order to hold their attention. So what better way to do that than to write the way humans write?

After all, would you send an email like this to your mum?...

Dear Mum,
I Am Going To Leave The Spare Key Under The Flower Pot In The Front Garden So That If You Arrive Before I Get Home From Work You Can Get In. Please Feed Fluffy If She Looks Hungry Or Meows A Lot When You Open The Door. Tuna Is Her Favourite Flavour.

Which team are you on?

If you’re a word-nerd, we know you’ve got an opinion on this. Tweet us and tell us what you think.