How to use Titles in the APA Style

This article aims to provide an understanding of APA style capitalization rules, particularly focusing on the usage of sentence case and title case.

APA Style employs two capitalization types for titles of works. These types are title case, where the first and major words are capitalized, and sentence case, where only the first word, the first word after a colon, and proper nouns are capitalized.

  • Apply sentence case formatting to book, webpage, and journal article titles.
  • Exceptions where the first word is always capitalized and after colons or other punctuation marks in sentence case.
  • Use title case formatting for journal titles, website titles, and titles within in-text citations.


In APA format, a sentence case approach is used for general word formatting. This means that most words are in lowercase, except for proper nouns, the first word of the title or subtitle, colons, em dashes, and punctuation marks. Adopting this approach ensures a uniform and standardized appearance when creating an APA reference list.

APA sentence case citation format


Sentence case is applied to titles of various works in reference list entries. This includes articles, books, reports, webpages, and other types of works, irrespective of whether the original work used title case.

Example The clash of civilizations and the remaking of world order
Explanation Only the first word of the sentence and proper nouns are capitalize, everything else is in lowercase.

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While most words are in lowercase, exceptions apply. Capitalize only the first word of the title, the first word of a subtitle, the first word after a colon, em dash, or end punctuation in a heading, nouns followed by numerals or letters, and proper nouns.

Example The Mona Lisa: A portrait of mystery
Explanation The first word ‘The’ is capitalized, and proper nouns such as ‘Mona Lisa’ are also capitalized, and the first word after the colon.
Example Whispers of the wind—The untold stories
Explanation The first word ‘Whispers’ is capitalized, and the em dash is used to create a pause or break, but the word following the em dash, ‘The’ is capitalized.

Watch Out for Colons and Punctuation: When you’re writing an APA title and using colons or other punctuation, make sure to capitalize the first word that comes right after them. This helps keep things clear and follows the rules of APA style.

Remember Proper Nouns: Don’t forget to capitalize the names of specific things such as people, places, and important stuff—even when you’re writing in sentence case.

Keep Acronyms Big: If you’re using abbreviations such as NASA, UNESCO, or ASAP in your title, keep them all in capital letters. This makes them stand out and helps everyone understand them easily. Just keep things consistent!


In title case, capitalize nouns, verbs (including linking verbs), adjectives, adverbs, pronouns, and all words containing four letters or more. Minor words, including short conjunctions (three letters or fewer), prepositions, and articles, should be rendered in lowercase. Apply this rule to journal titles, website titles, and in-text citations.

See our guide to title case usage and our comparison to sentence and title case grid examples.


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Hannah Berry (Ph.D.)

Hannah Berry has lectured at several colleges and teaches at the WEA. Besides publishing extensively, she has taught citation skills and written multiple style guides.

Learn how to cite in APA