IF YOU ARE GOING TO WRITE FOR PUBLICATION, you need access to at least one English language grammar and usage stylebook. No matter how good a writer you may be, no matter how much experience you may have, you will use that book frequently. (Unless you have a photographic memory). Assuming you are using American English (AmE) instead of British English (BrE), you should probably familiarize yourself with William Strunk and E.B. White’s classic Elements of Style.
It’s a small thing—the fourth edition runs all of 128 pages—but it has cast a long shadow on other stylebooks since its first publication in 1920. But Elements of Style is essentially just a primer for the two stylebooks used by most publishers and editors of American English.
The first is The Chicago Manual of Style, which has been published for general use since 1906. It brags that it is “the indispensable reference for writers, editors, proofreaders, indexers, copywriters, designers, and publishers, informing the editorial canon with sound, definitive advice.” Published by the University of Chicago Press, it has been the go-to reference book for book editors for more than a hundred years!
The Associated Press Stylebook was created by journalists and editors connected with the Associated Press (AP) to standardize usage in American newspapers. The AP was formed in 1846 and maintained an informal stylebook for a hundred years before publishing a public version in 1953.
Other journals have relied on it and it seems to be the most popular with non-Chicago stylebooks. The AP Stylebook expanded beyond the confinement of newspaper needs in 1977, adding more generalized reference material.
Most of the rules and recommendations in both books are similar, although there are notable differences. For example, the Associated Press does not recommend using serial commas (“The red, white and blue of the American flag”) while the Chicago Manual does (“The red, white, and blue of the American flag”). Another example is how each capitalizes the “lesser” words in a title or proper name.
The seventeenth edition of The Chicago Manual of Style, published in 2017 by the University of Chicago Press, is the latest edition.
Articles and prepositions in titles
The Chicago Manual recommends that all articles and prepositions in proper names and titles should be in lowercase. The AP Stylebook recommends that articles and prepositions of three or fewer letters should be in lowercase while those with four or more letters should be capitalized.
Let’s use one of the most famous movies ever made as an example as it has a four-letter preposition and a three-letter article:
• Chicago Manual: Gone with the Wind
• AP Stylebook: Gone With the Wind
Both look fine but for my eyes, the Chicago style looks better, probably because the four-letter “with” is still a short word. Now let’s try it with one of the biggest hits of the ’60s (it reached #1 on the Cash Box Top 100 chart by Glady Knight & the Pips in early 1968 and then did it again by Marvin Gaye in late ’68):
• Chicago Manual: I Heard It through the Grapevine
• AP Stylebook: I Heard It Through the Grapevine
Here, the Chicago style may be more consistent but the AP style looks so much better, so much righter.
If you use a writing application when publishing online such as Grammarly, most of these apps use the AP style or a style based on the AP style. For example, as I am typing these words here, there is a red line below “through” in the Chicago style of “I Heard It through the Grapevine”—Grammarly is suggesting that I capitalize the word.
The AP Stylebooks of the past few years have had an extended title: The Associated Press Stylebook and Briefing on Media Law.
A few from Lew
“In my professional opinion, AP style is obsolete. It was developed at a time when news stories had to be sent by telegraph and every character cost money (thus dropping the serial comma, which can lead to confusion). Many newspapers didn’t have italic fonts, and, again, italics didn’t travel well by telegraph. Consequently, AP style doesn’t distinguish between short story and novel titles (both are indicated by quotation marks) or song titles and album titles (ditto). This alone is reason enough to never use AP style.”
This is the home page of the Capitalize My Title website.
Capitalize My Title
There are many websites on the internet offering advice on grammar, punctuation, and capitalization. Some use the Chicago style but most use the AP style or rules similar to the AP. But rather than rely on a website that may not even realize there are opposing styles from two authorities, instead rely on the Capitalize My Title tool.
There is a free tool that helps you get the correct capitalization every time Simply type or paste your title into CMT, select which style you want, and press Enter/Return on your keyboard. The CMT tool will properly format your title in that style.
Here is a link to the Capitalize My Title tool.
If you are writing only for Medium with no greater objective or ambition, you can choose either Chicago or the AP. If, on the other hand, you are ambitious and publish your work on Medium with hopes of attracting a publisher, you’re in a bit of a bind: Book publishers will be looking for you to use the Chicago style while newspaper and related journals will be looking for the AP style.
Whichever one you choose, be consistent and stick with it.