What to Capitalize

Single Words, Abbreviations, Captions etc.

  • Proper nouns
R.I.P. Visual Fabrique
  • The letters of most abbreviations and acronyms.
  • The first letter of the first word in numbered or bulleted lists.
1. On the File menu, click Open Database.
  • Capitalization in figure captions

For title captions, use sentence capitalization style and no end punctuation. However, numbered titles are used for art.

Figure 1.5. Application Properties dialog box.

For descriptive captions (that explain something about the art but do not necessarily point to or call out anything in particular) in most cases, use sentence capitalization style for a descriptive caption, and end the caption with a period only if it is a complete sentence or a mixture of fragments and sentences.

This is one of the screen-savers included with ZYX.
  • Capitalization in figure callouts 

Capitalize the first letter of the first word in figure callouts and end the callout with a period only if the callout is a complete sentence.

The right side of the window displays the contents of the item you click on the left.
  • The first letter of these terms when they are followed by a letter or number: “table”, “figure”, “example”, “appendix”, “chapter”,  “section”, “part”, and “step”.
Go to Chapter 3. See Section 9 in the reference manual.
  • The first letter of each term that identifies the name of a key on a keyboard.
  • The first letter of interface elements.

Menu names, command and command button names, and dialog box titles and tab names. Usually, these items use title caps. If the interface is inconsistent, use title caps, i.e. each word in a sentence/text fragment is capitalized.

Dialog box elements. Newer style calls for these items to use sentence caps. If the interface is inconsistent, use sentence caps, i.e. only the first word in a sentence/text fragment is capitalized.

Functional elements. Capitalize the names of functional elements that do not have a label in the interface, such as toolbars and toolbar buttons (the Insert Table button). Do not capitalize interface elements used generically, such as a toolbar, menu, scroll bar, and icon.

  • The first letter of the first word of a complete sentence following a colon.
Select from two options: The Save option stores your changes and the Discard option erases your changes.

Capitalization of Titles and Headings

The general rule is to capitalize the first letter of the first word in a title or heading, the first letter of all other words in a title or heading except conjunctions, articles, prepositions of fewer than four letters, and the “to” in infinitives. Here is a more detailed explanation of this rule.

  • Capitalize all nouns, verbs (including is and other forms of be), adverbs (including “than” and “when”), adjectives (including “this” and “that”), and pronouns (including “its”).

Always capitalize the first and last words, regardless of their part of speech.

"The Text to Look For"
  • Capitalize prepositions that are part of a verb phrase.
"Backing Up Your Disk"
  • Do not capitalize articles (a, an, the) unless an article is the first word in the title.
  • Do not capitalize coordinate conjunctions (and, but, for, nor, or).
  • Do not capitalize prepositions of four or fewer letters.
  • Do not capitalize to in an infinitive phrase.
“How to Format Your Hard Disk”
  • Capitalize interface and program terms that ordinarily would not be capitalized, unless they are case-sensitive (“The fdisk Command”). Follow the traditional use of keywords and other special terms in programming languages.
“The print Function”, “Using the EVEN and ALIGN Directives”
A rule of thumb that usually proves satisfactory is: capitalize the second element if it is a noun or proper adjective or if it has equal force with the first element.
Twentieth-Century Literature
Do not capitalize the second element if (a) it is a participle modifying the first element or (b) both elements constitute a single word.
English-speaking People
Medium-sized Library
E-flat Minor
Self-sustaining Reaction
Applying this rule to the example you give yields "Hands-on Applications."
This is because on is neither a noun nor a proper adjective; it is a preposition — or, more properly, a particle. In addition, hands-on constitutes a single word.

Capitalization in tables

  • If the table is titled, use title caps for the title. That is, do not capitalize articles (a, an, the), prepositions of four or fewer letters, or coordinate conjunctions.
Table 7.4 Formatting Flags
  • Capitalize only the first word of each column heading, the first word of each column entry, and proper nouns.
Device nameDescription 
 CONSystem console.
  • The first letter of the second element of a hyphenated compound word in a title or heading unless the element is an article, preposition, or coordinating conjunction.
Configuring the Audio-in Component
  • Hardware switch names and buttons
Power-On/Off switch, Standby switch, Power button

What Not to Capitalize

  • The word  “page when followed by a number.
For more details, please see page 22.
  • Any word for the sole reason of emphasizing it. Use italic for emphasis.
  • The words release or version unless these words are part of a product name.

  • Variable names that are used in code examples.

  • The spelled-out words in most acronyms and abbreviations, even though the words ordinarily appear in a shortened form in capital letters.

  • The first word following a colon if the word begins a text fragment.

  • The word following an em dash unless it is a proper noun, even if the text following the em dash is a complete sentence.