Titles and Section Headings

The title of a complete work is usually centred near the top of the first page; if possible, it should be printed either in large letters or in boldface, or even in both. It should not be italicized or placed in quotation marks, and it should not have a full stop at the end. Any punctuation or italics which are required for independent reasons should be used normally; this includes a question mark at the end if the title is a question. If there is a subtitle, a colon should be placed at the end of the title proper; unless the title and the subtitle are both very short, it is best to use two lines.

There are two possible styles for capitalization: you may capitalize every significant word, or you may capitalize only those words which intrinsically require capitals. (The first word should be capitalized in any case.) Here are some examples; I have used the second style of capitalization:

The origin of Mozart's Requiem
The imposition of English in Wales
Classroom discipline in Birmingham schools: a case study
Football hooligans: why do they do it?
The parasites of the quaking aspen (Populus tremuloides)
"Thou unnecessary letter": the history of the letter Z in English

The quotation marks in the last example are used because the first phrase is a quotation from Shakespeare.

In a work which is very short (no more than five or six pages), it is rarely necessary to divide the work into sections. Longer works, however, are usually best divided into sections which are at least named and possibly also numbered; numbers are recommended if there are more than two or three sections. Section headings are usually placed in boldface but in ordinary-sized type; they are not centred but placed at the left-hand margin. A section heading may be placed on a separate line (with a following blank line), or it may be placed at the beginning of a paragraph; only in the second case should there be a full stop at the end. Here is an example illustrated in each of the two styles:

3. The dictatorship of Primo de Rivera
In 1923, King Alfonso XIII handed over power to General Primo de Rivera, who immediately abrogated the Constitution, dissolved the Cortes and installed a brutal right-wing dictatorship.... or
3. The dictatorship of Primo de Rivera. In 1923, King Alfonso III handed over power to General Primo de Rivera, who immediately abrogated the Constitution, dissolved the Cortes and installed a brutal right-wing dictatorship....

Either style is acceptable. Note that the first paragraph after a title or a section heading is not indented; all following paragraphs should be indented.

If the work is very long, or if it consists of a number of points and subpoints (as is often the case with bureaucratic and business documents), then the sections may be further divided into subsections. In this case, you should certainly number all the sections and subsections, in the following manner (these passages are taken from John Wells's book Accents of English) (Wells 1982):

6. North American English
6.1. General American
6.1.1. Introduction
In North America it is along the Atlantic coast that we find the sharpest regional and social differences in speech...
6.1.2. The thought-lot merger
A well-known diagnostic for distinguishing the northern speech area of the United States from the midland and southern areas is the pronunciation of the word on....

Copyright © Larry Trask, 1997

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