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Title Capitalization

At some point in my life I was taught three different "rules" concerning capitalization of titles of books and such. "Such" being chapters of books, games, movies, operas, poems, songs, television programs, articles, art works, lectures, speeches, documents, plays, workshops, reference materials, classes, magazines, events, and probably other things I am leaving out.
  1. Elementary school: Capitalize the first, last, and important words in a title.
  2. In eighth grade I started learning Associated Press style because I took journalism classes. AP style is:
    • Capitalize the principal words, including prepositions and conjunctions of four or more letters.
    • Capitalize an article ("the", "a" and "an") or a word of fewer than four letters if it is the first or last word of the title. (In other words, the first and last words of a title are always capitalized.)
  3. Later in life, I needed to use CHICAGO MANUAL OF STYLE's rules. In general, they include the two points above covered by AP, plus:
    • Capitalize all nouns, pronouns, adjectives, verbs, adverbs, and subordinating conjunctions (if, because, as, that, etc.)
    • Articles (a an the), coordinating conjunctions (and but or for nor), and prepositions are always lowercased (unless they are the first or last words of the title.)
  4. CMS also includes these points:
    • Capitalize the first element in hyphenated and open compounds in titles.
    • Capitalize the subsequent elements unless they are articles, prepositions, coordinating conjunctions, or modifiers such as flat sharp or natural following musical key elements.
    • Capitalize second elements attached by hyphens to prefixes only if they are proper nouns or proper adjectives.
    • Capitalize the final element of a compound that comes at the end of a title (other than one with a hyphenated prefix) no matter what part of speech it may be.
Along the way, I was also exposed to other forms of capitalization of titles -- notes, bibliographies, foreign titles, technical and scientific writing, library style, and probably others. I also learned that "house style" for various businesses and institutions can vary from these "rules." My dendrites were somewhat tangled to start with. By this point they may have knotted in some portions of my brain from the stress of all this data.

Further complicating the matter is the fact that whatever I've learned about open compounds, proper adjectives, subordinating conjunctions, and many other related terms is not at the forefront of my mind at all times.

What's the answer for you? Unless you are a copyeditor or working within the rules of a particular style -- keep it simple and, as always, consistent. Don't get your dendrites in a knot. The U.S. Government Printing Office Style Manual offers one easy style: "Capitalize all words in titles of publications and documents, except a, an, the, at, by, for, in, of, on, to, up, and, as, but, it, or, and nor." I guess that's about what I learned in first grade.

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