Life Goals Essay Titles Capitalization

  • Liam

    Capitalise the first word of the title and capitalise all proper nouns. No more, no less.

    Leave the arguments over this method actually being correct aside for a moment, it’s more aesthetically pleasing.

    And, for the love of all things holy, no double spaces. Please!

    Double spaces after a comma? That’s madness.

  • Katy G.

    I have worked as a professional writer for a several years. I constantly have to fight with people about the capitalization of the word “is” in a title. Since it is a verb, I have always capitalized “is” in titles; however, I constantly see others putting it in lowercase. I sometimes wonder if there is a rule I am unaware of. I have checked with case-checking websites, and these always say to capitalize “is” as well. Lately, I have become mired in self-doubt. I find myself wanting to lowercase “is” because I hate having others look at me with pity for what they think is my ignorance of proper style. I know this is my own insecurity, and I just wanted to vent. This post seems to support my position. However, if anyone knows why “is” should be in lowercase, please let me know so I won’t continue down this misguided editorial path.

  • April

    Thank you. I confess that capitalization is one of my many grammar weak spots. I think I will sign up for your newsletter:-)

  • Stacie Walker

    Thank you for providing this valuable content on when to capitalize words in a title. Lately, I have been writing a lot of articles and I want to make sure my grammar is as correct as possible.

    I really appreciate your help.

    Stacie Walker

  • George

    I was once instructed to lower case state-of-being verbs. Is that part of any accepted convention?

  • Garrison


    Yes, once we did type manually with no power required. Except of course the power to jam those sticky keys down hard enough to make an impression through the ribbon. Back then I used to find the ends of sentences by turning the paper over and holding it up to the light to see where the “stars” were. LOL. I think the old Underwood may still be in the closet at my parent’s house.

    After that was a nice little Smith-Corona electric typewriter that tended to put too many spaces between things. It was a fine improvement, but still had a ribbon. By the way, why was there a red half on the bottom of the ribbon? I don’t think I ever used red to type anything.

    In the mid-80’s I got a Smith-Corona that had a small screen and memory download on to a floppy disk that allowed you to edit and save documents. The only advantage to this system was that the saved document was re-typed by the machine, making it appear like an original paper. It was also fairly small and portable and I could plug it in at the library, unlike the cumbersome and virtually useless IBM PC Jr. I invested in just a year before.

    I still use two spaces after commas because that was how I learned to type way back in the third grade. When I wrote my dissertation in the early 80’s that was still the APA norm. In fact, that was still the norm up until the early 90’s when I was reading student’s dissertations. As recently as 2008 I was writing court reports using two spaces and I never heard any complaints. It has only been in the last year that I discovered the one-space-rule and MLA due to proofreading my son’s papers. When it comes to things written, I am hopelessly out of date.

    But, I keep up the good fight. Right on, far out, and power to the people! LOL.

  • thebluebird11

    @Garrison: Rumor has it that the two-space habit originated with the [manual] typewriters that didn’t do any kind of automatic spacing adjustments, and so putting two spaces allowed for easier and faster reading, skimming and searching of documents (which, in those primitive days, were called papers). This two-space habit persisted into the use of WordPerfect (or should I say, WordImPerfect). The first medical transcription company I worked for had a particular account, a very large local hospital here, and all our work was done COMPLETELY in capital letters. Imagine reading pages and pages of documentation in all caps. The double space between sentences allowed a little rest for the weary eyes. I continue to use two spaces between sentences (and after colons), since I think it still makes skimming and searching documents easier. Whether or not my computer software makes any adjustments (and I don’t see that it does), I don’t know or care; by now, the two-space habit is ingrained, and it would take me a long time to get rid of it; not worth the effort. However, if the web site wants to eliminate my double spaces, it is free to do so. I won’t lose time–or sleep–over it! (and I’m thrilled to be considered ultra-radical about SOMEthing LOL)

  • Garrison

    Here’s why it is Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association:

    Publication Manual: Proper noun

    American Psychological Association: Proper noun

    You see, it is not just a Publication, nor is it just a Manual, it is a Publication Manual and that is its proper name, just as American Psychological Association is a proper name.

    Also, I believe it may bolster their self-esteem.

    P.S. Being ultra-radical I still put two spaces after a period and a colon! This website persists in correcting it, however, and my defiant space statements go unheard.

  • Sharon Elin

    I agree with TechWriter. “To” is not a preposition when used with a verb. It becomes part of the verb as an infinitive.

  • Charles Flynn

    Many Thanks for This Wonderful Essay

    I would disagree only with one thing. You use the word ‘worry’ in the phrase “…you have to worry not only about the part of speech…” when ‘be aware of’ would perhaps be less pejorative or off-putting.

    I think this topic is one of those things that just have to be done right, and which once learned bring professionalism to us amateurs – joyful for both the writer and the reader. Following this particular rule fully embellished fulfills many of the purposes of a title: grab and focus attention in an aesthetic way.

    I had learned much of the rule, but not all. Now I can pay attention to who uses the rule effectively and who lets things slip. Your example of the American Psychological Association Publication Manual was interesting. Since they are known for their tendency to make milquetoast of ‘complications’, even at the cost of losing the effect and purpose of the chore, I believed your version of their rule. But on their site I found them quite internally inconsistent. There are examples of every title type.

    Again, thank you for the essay.

    PS – Cindy, the two space rule depended on the culture and when you learned to type. Typesetting machines and word-processors have never needed two spaces, and possibly not even proportionate Selectronic typewriters.

  • Carla

    Thanks for your comments, everybody.
    Ken – I absolutely meant “Many”….thanks for pointing that out! Even proofreaders need their work proofread…

  • Ken

    Carla, did you mean “Many” in “May writers mistakenly believe…”?
    Good post. Thank you.

  • Mark Nichol

    Fortunately, most nonacademic writers don’t need to concern themselves with the conflicting dictates of various manuals for specific disciplines like the APA and the MLA. But it’s still confusing to a layperson. Here’s a breakdown by media type of what you’re likely to see:

    Newspapers vary in their capitalization style for headlines, from using initial caps for every word to using sentence case. Magazines do so also, but they are not necessarily consistent from one article to the next, because they may design a given article headline to resonate with the feature’s theme (military-style stencil lettering for an profile about a soldier) or tone (a whimsical font for a story about the circus).

    Book-cover designers often play with font and case, too but the style on the title page (and in references to other books in a book’s text) will generally be title case. Trade books — those for lay consumers, as opposed to scholars — that include bibliographies and references usually use title case in those resources, too.

    Title case is what you’ll usually see on professionally edited Web sites as well, and it’s the default style for writing most people are likely to undertake.

  • Alexander Davis

    Great explanation. I was wondering about this for a long time.

  • TechWriter

    “Learn” is a verb in my dictionary, so that would make the “to” in “to learn” part of the infinitive.

  • Cygnifier

    Interesting article on the complexities of capitalization! Thanks. As a writer and editor, I’ve discovered that one almost never gets to “pick” the style one likes best — the goal is to determine the house style required and stick with that religiously.

    With APA, a mix of capitalization styles is called for. For reference lists in citing an article in a journal, the article title itself is done in sentence-case while the name of the journal is in title-case. Same for magazines and newspapers. Oddly enough, book titles are to be given in sentence-case, except for proper nouns, of course. So in a reference list, the title of the APA manual would be the Publication manual of the American Psychological Association! For titles in the body of a paper, one uses title-case, but without capitalizing conjunctions, articles, or prepositions shorter than four letters. So in the text itself, the APA manual would be Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association. Logical? No. But to play in their ballpark, one must follow their rules. Does the MLA (Modern Language Association) style match with APA for capitalization? Of course not. That would be too easy. Try teaching an English composition course which is supposed to prepare students to enter both the social sciences and the humanites — keeping APA and MLA straight is really quite the challenge these days and capitalization is just a piece of it. And then the history faculty complain that they get students who don’t know how to footnote properly. Sigh.

  • Wakas Mir

    Great tips.. I might have to focus on which style I would stick to.

  • thebluebird11

    I don’t really see any hard and fast rules being delivered in this post, which is fine. I have no problem finding my comfort zone and sticking to it. My personal preference apparently has a name (Title Case).

    However, I must comment on the statement that “Sentence case, or down style, is one method, preferred by many print and online publications and recommended by the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association.”

    If they espouse Sentence Case, why are the words “Manual,” “Psychological” and “Association” capitalized?! (OK, maybe “Psychological” and “Association” are considered proper nouns in the sense that they are the part of the title of this particular association. But “manual”?)

  • Brett

    I love this post! I’ve been bouncing all over the map on this one and appreciate the clear presentation. I normally make an attempt at the 3rd method (Title case) but wasn’t familiar with the rules. For such a seemingly small item for a blog post, it was stressing me out!


  • Rebecca

    Great advice! It can be tricky to know which words to capitalize. When it doubt, look it up!

  • Cindy Bidar

    Thanks for these tips. I wonder if the title-case method is older than the sentence-case method, since that’s the way we were taught about 100 years ago, right along with two spaces after a period.

    Maybe it’s time to update my thinking on that. One thing’s for sure, it would save me time trying to figure out what to capitalize and what not to.

  • Did you spot my grammar goof?

    If not take a second look at the title.

    You have spent days, weeks, and months writing and perfecting your personal (not personel) statement.

    You have slaved countless hours in front of the computer screen trying to shed a creative light on your background and highlight your experiences.

    Don’t overlook the most common and possibly most devastating mistakes many applicants make when submitting their personal statement.

    Spelling and grammar mistakes make us look careless and illiterate. Neither of these are favorable aspects of a PA school applicant.

    To maximize your chances of receiving a precious interview spot you are going to want to do everything in your power to avoid them.

    Today I am going to give you nine simple steps to avoid these silly goofs and make sure your personal statement is flawless.

    1. Don’t trust your spell checker

    A spellchecker is probably one of the best innovations to come out of the 21’st century, but it doesn't catch all spelling mistakes. To spot typos, read your text backward or ask someone else to proofread your text.

    • Use Grammarly, which offers a feature-packed set of spell-check and proofreading options in their free web app.  They also have a Microsoft Word plugin that will take your spellcheck to the next level.
    • Download and install this medical dictionary for MS Word. It was built with love by a medical transcriptionist, and he gives it away for free!
    • Write like Hemingway: The author and journalist, Ernest Hemingway, was the master of simple language. His writing is direct and lacks flowery prose. This makes it an ideal model for writing a winning PA School Personal Statement. With this in mind, one of the most useful tools for aiding and improving writing is the Hemingway App.

    2. Know how to write physician assistant

    We have reviewed 100's of essays through our personal statement editing service. Not a day goes by where we don't see these three typical "PA specific" writing mistakes. According to one admissions director, we interviewed making just one of these errors will land your personal statement in the trash bin - ouch!

    1. It is PAs, not PA’s  - Trust me, the managing editor of the AAPA wrote me personally and corrected me on this one!
    2. It is physician assistant, not physician's assistant
    3. The words physician assistant are not capitalized unless it's part of a name and precedes the name:
      • Here is an example
        • Physician Assistant John Smith has been in medicine for ten years - This is capitalized because it is part of a name (Physician Assistant John Smith) and it proceeds the name.
        • If the word physician assistant (notice I didn't capitalize physician assistant) follows the name as in this example: John Smith, a physician assistant, drinks a lot of coffee, it is not capitalized.

    Consider creating your own proofreading checklist which includes a list of the types of mistakes you commonly make. Refer to this list each time you proofread.

    3. Proofread on paper

    Take the time to print out your final draft on paper. You, and those who you have reading your essay are less likely to skim the text and miss errors.

    4. Read your essay aloud

    This is a very simple yet commonly overlooked piece of advice that can make a big difference when it comes to editing your personal statement. Sit in a quiet room and read your essay aloud, record yourself reading your essay on your smartphone, rewrite the text where you stumble as you read aloud and listen to yourself read the essay, taking note of text that seems awkward, unnecessary or out of place.

    Another effective method is to have the computer read aloud for you.

    If you own a Mac, you can copy the text of your paper into a TextEdit file (found in Utilities or Applications). If you have a PC, you may have a reader installed, or check out Natural Reader for free.


    1. Print out a copy of your paper, double spaced.
    2. You need a pen/pencil and highlighter.
    3. Prepare a text file that can be read by your voice software.
    4. Choose a voice you like if you have a choice.
    5. Listen to your paper as you follow along on the printed copy. Stop the program when you hear a problem and note it on your paper.

    Listen especially for:

    • Grammar problems, notably missing endings or subject-verb agreement errors.
    • Ideas that don’t fit together—for example, sentences that jump around or don’t seem to be in the right place.
    • Repetition of words or dull repetitiveness.
    • Sentences that don’t make sense to you.
    • Unnatural pauses, or lack of breaks, in the reading. This indicates you probably haven’t punctuated correctly.
    • Words the program can’t pronounce, which could indicate a misspelling.
    • Wrong words.

    5. Read your essay backwards

    This is a standard technique used by writers: read your essay backwards.

    We often become "blind" to our mistakes, seeing the correct word or grammar on the page when it isn't there. To break this pattern you can read your writing backwards, phrase by phrase, or word by word. This will help you see your text in a new way.

    6. Make several passes for different types of errors

    Try checking spelling and end punctuation on one pass, grammar and internal punctuation on another, and format on yet another pass. Develop a system.

    If you are editing in Microsoft Word you can choose to turn formatting marks on or off. This will allow you to go carefully through your document looking for extra dots (spaces) or arrows (for tab characters) as well as returns and paragraph spacing.

    7. Consider using an online service

    Invite someone else to proofread your text after you have reviewed it. A new set of eyes may immediately spot errors that you've overlooked. We provide a detailed proofread of your essay as part of our essay review service.   Or, consider sending your personal statement to a service such as eangel which is a very inexpensive email proofreading service.

    8. Check for logical order

    This is an enjoyable activity I have done with clients as part of our essay collaborative. I'll describe it, but here is also a short video demonstrating the process.

    Take your personal statement and follow these instructions:

    1. Make a copy of it on your computer so you are working with a new version.
    2. At the end of every sentence, put a 'return' and leave a few spaces. Do this for your entire piece of writing.
    3. Adjust the size or spacing so you can see only two sentences on your screen. Read the sentences aloud. As a pair of sentences, do they work together? That is, does one sentence follow logically from the one before it?
    4. Now, scroll down, so you see your second sentence + third sentence only on the screen. Ask the same question: does one sentence lead to another? If it doesn't, add transitions, pronouns, or other information to make the two sentences work together.

    Do this process for your entire essay-yes, it's long and time-consuming, but you'll get faster at it. This exercise will help you with understanding organization, transitions, and how your writing works together, not just as a series of disconnected sentences.

    9. Pay attention to last-minute changes

    If you do make a last-minute change to a few words, be sure to check the entire sentence or even paragraph over again.

    Many errors are the result of changes made without adjusting other, related words. I do this all the time! Make sure to check the entire document.

    Bonus Tip:

    Identify and write to the admissions committee

    A good exercise is to create a profile of one or two admissions committee members and make it into a separate document.  Go to Google image search and input "physician assistant school faculty" and grab one of those pictures.

    What does their profile look like? Are they middle-aged? Experienced administrators, teachers or a PA student? What are they looking for? Creativity, enthusiasm, knowledge of the PA professions, uniqueness?

    Once you have created an actual profile for your reader go ahead and re-read your essay.  Does your reader understand it? Does she like it? Does it persuade him/her to take action and send you an invite to interview?

    Would you like some more great tips on writing your physician assistant personal statement?

    Check out our new book "How to write your physician assistant personal statement" which includes 12 interviews with some of the nation's top PA school faculty and admissions directors from across the country-It's available on Amazon for instant download from the Kindle Store and also in paperback.

    Click here to read more about the PA school essay collaborative where you can get free advice on your personal statement or submit your essay for one-on-one help through our professional editing/proofreading service.

    View all posts in this series
    • How to Write the Perfect Physician Assistant School Application Essay
    • The Physician Assistant Essay and Personal Statement Collaborative
    • Do You Recognize These 7 Common Mistakes in Your Personal Statement?
    • 7 Essays in 7 Days: PA Personal Statement Workshop: Essay 1, “A PA Changed My Life”
    • PA Personal Statement Workshop: Essay 2, “I Want to Move Towards the Forefront of Patient Care”
    • PA Personal Statement Workshop: Essay 3, “She Smiled, Said “Gracias!” and Gave me a Big Hug”
    • PA Personal Statement Workshop: Essay 4, “I Have Gained so Much Experience by Working With Patients”
    • PA Personal Statement Workshop: Essay 5, “Then Reach, my Son, and Lift Your People up With You”
    • PA Personal Statement Workshop: Essay 6, “That First Day in Surgery was the First Day of the Rest of my Life”
    • PA Personal Statement Workshop: Essay 7, “I Want to Take People From Dying to Living, I Want to Get Them Down From the Cliff.”
    • Physician Assistant Personal Statement Workshop: “To say I was an accident-prone child is an understatement”
    • 9 Simple Steps to Avoid Silly Spelling and Grammar Goofs in Your PA School Personel Statement
    • 5 Tips to Get you Started on Your Personal Essay (and why you should do it now)
    • How to Write Your Physician Assistant Personal Statement The Book!
    • How to Write “Physician Assistant” The PA Grammar Guide
    • 101 PA School Admissions Essays: The Book!
    • 5 Things I’ve Learned Going Into My Fourth Physician Assistant Application Cycle
    • 7 Tips for Addressing Shortcomings in Your PA School Personal Statement

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