First, if you are not familiar with these terms:
Title case, or title style, is when you capitalise each word, except for conjunctions, prepositions and articles. For example, the article title above is in title case.
Sentence case, or sentence style, is when you capitalise only the first word. For example, Should you use title case or sentence case for headings on your website and in your documents?
All capitals, abbreviated as ALL CAPS, is when you capitalise all letters.
Using sentence case, title case or all capitals is a style choice, but be sure to use the style consistently throughout each document and publication.
The current style in Australia is to use minimal capitalisation, so sentence case seems to be more common in professionally written business and corporate documents. In addition, research on readability has shown that lower case letters are easier to read. The Australian Style manual notes:
The readability of lower case letters is greater than that of capitals. This is because the ascenders and descenders in the lower-case letterforms give a distinctive physical shape to each word. We read by recognising word shapes, which is way we sometimes misread words set in fonts that have idiosyncratic letterforms (specifically, non-conventional character widths).
As for all capitals, research conducted by Miles Tinkler and published in Legibility of Print found that using all capitals slowed reading speeds:
All-capital print greatly retards speed of reading in comparison with lower-case type. Also, most readers judge all capitals to be less legible. Faster reading of the lower-case print is due to the characteristic word forms furnished by this type. This permits reading by word units, while all capitals tend to be read letter by letter. Furthermore, since all-capital printing takes at least one-third more space than lower case, more fixation pauses are required for reading the same amount of material. The use of all capitals should be dispensed with in every printing situation.
Some experts suggest that it’s okay to use all capitals for short amount of text, such as street signs and short headlines. It’s interesting to note that the Australian Style manual uses sentence case for chapter headings, all capitals for main headings within chapters and sentence case for sub-headings. For example:
Chapter 14: Editing and proofreading
THE CONTRIBUTION EDITORS MAKE
SCOPE OF SERVICES
Categories of tasks
The editing brief and timetable
Scope of tasks
Author collaboration and review
I was recently working with a graphic designer on updating the copy and design of a company brochure. The older version used title case for the subheadings and the designer noted that this was “old school”. So for modern-looking brochures, websites and publications, sentence case seems to be the most popular.
If you want to compromise and use both styles, a sound approach is to use title case for main headings and sentence case for subheadings. If you believe the studies conducted on the readability of all capitals, you will want to avoid this style altogether.
- Tinker, Miles A. (1963). Legibility of Print. Ames, Iowa: Iowa State University Press. p. 65.