Hi, I'm Dave Mulder. This is my website, where I write about user experience and product design.

Originally Published: December 28, 2009

Article titles: upper case versus lower case

During a recent client conversation, I was asked if it was my intention to title blog articles using lower case text (just take a look at the title of this posting). ┬áIt’s something I have always done when titling blog articles, and therefore have not given much thought to.

This particular client comes from the Chicago style school in which headlines use an “up” style with capitalized words.

Let’s compare up style versus down style:

  • Up style: Aides to Iran’s Opposition Leaders Said to Be Arrested
  • Down style: Aides to Iran’s opposition leaders said to be arrested

A single style makes readers feel more comfortable from visit to visit and even from publication to publication (if your competitors use the same style). It is a good idea to pick one and stick with it.

Assumptions

Someone, decades ago, had to create up style. I wonder if he or she realized how much that decision would influence the way headlines would be written generations later.

At the time, it may have been the right choice. A set of assumptions went into that style, and it certainly made sense. But are those assumptions still correct today? It’s hard to say without knowing what they were.

In the interim, we can take a look at the top publications of different mediums and see what style they use. I picked newspapers, magazines, and blogs.

Newspapers (top 10 by 2009 circulation)

Observation: 8 newspapers use down style, 2 use up.

Magazines (top 10 by 2008 circulation)

Observation: All 10 magazines use up style headlines.

This surprised me. Newspapers and magazines are very different in the headline style they use. One possible reason for the difference is that magazines are published much less frequently, have fewer articles than newspapers, and shorter article titles.

Blogs (top 10 ranked by Technorati)

Observation: 8 use up style, 2 use down style

Discussion & thoughts

Of the three mediums, newspaper, magazines, and blog, no result surprised me more than blogs. I figured that blogs, being progressive, would be most likely to use down-style headlines. Instead, we find that most of the major blogs use up-style headlines

Why is this?

It could be that up-style is the method that readers prefer. Alternatively, it could just be that the top bloggers (or their editors) come from magazine backgrounds.

The assumptions are unclear, but one trend I do notice is that up-style headlines tend to be shorter. This makes sense, because short, capitalized titles don’t look like crap, and the contrast between them and the copy beneath is aesthetically pleasant.

My personal preference is to be more descriptive when writing article titles so that readers have more feed-forward information (they know what to expect). This assumption is what brought me to construct headlines using down style.

What I don’t know is how up style versus down style impacts perceived usability and aesthetics. I suspect that it does, though I don’t know what that relationship will look like.

Going into this article, I expected to confirm my belief that down style is the way to go, but after exploring the top newspapers, magazines, and blogs, it is not so clear that I am right. Maybe I need to adjust my own style.