Breaking it Down: An Introduction to APA Capitalization Rules
APA rules can sometimes be confusing, including rules about capitalization. Despite slight variations, the main capitalization rules can be broken down into two format categories: title case and sentence case.
Title case is when you capitalize the first letter of all words that are 4 or more letters long:
· Title of Your Paper
· Level 1 Section Headings
· Level 2 Section Headings
· References Title
There aren’t as many rules for the title case in APA, simply because most capitalization rules will focus on the second category of rules: The sentence case.
Sentence case follows standard sentence capitalization rules where capitalization is used only for the first letter of the first word, proper nouns, and the first word after a colon:
· Sentences within your paper
· Level 3 headings
· Level 4 headings
· Titles of sources in APA-style reference entries
Let’s take a closer look at the sentence case rules as they relate to the sentences in your paper. After explaining the rule and providing an example, I will also share with you two contrary rules that exist in special circumstances. Let’s face it, the longer you learn about APA style, the more contrary rules you will find.
The first letter of the first word
The first letter of the first word after a colon
Proper nouns (including trade names and specific titles)
Nouns followed by numerals (because they refer to specific “things”)
The color-code corresponds to the matching portion of the example sample:
Example: According to the American Psychological Association (APA, 2010), writers need to “Capitalize nouns followed by numerals or letters that denote a specific place on a numbered series” (103). Here is one example provided: “On Day 2 of Experiment 4” (103).
And as usual, there are some exceptions to the rule.
Contrary rule #1: Titles of written works (such as books and article titles), follow title case rules as well as “Capitaliz[ing] all verbs (including linking verbs
Example: In her book, Scholars’ Attitudes About Learning Styles…
When you are referring to the title of a source in the sentences of your paper, make sure you capitalize. Unless, of course your subject is related to the next contrary rule.
Contrary Rule #2: “Do not capitalize the names of laws, theories, models, statistical procedures, or hypotheses” (APA, 2010, p.102) since they can be understood to serve more as common nouns as opposed to proper nouns.
Example: Maslow’s (1943) hierarchy of needs
Example: According to the classical conditioning model, …….(Watson, 1924)
There are, of course, other capitalization rules. Aside from the Writing Center’s overview of capitalization rules, and the APA style blog, students can also find a breakdown of the rules with examples in the APA Manual (6th ed.), on pp. 101-104 (or 4.14-4.20).
We also have an interactive lesson on capitalization on our website. Make some time to take our APA capitalization quiz and let us know how you did in the comments below.
Veronica Oliver is a Writing Instructor in the Walden Writing Center. In her spare time she writes fiction, binge watches Netflix, and occasionally makes it to a 6am Bikram Yoga class.
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