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I'm currently typing up some lecture notes for a university course, and I'm having trouble deciding how exactly I should typeset the title of the document. The title consists of the subject abbreviation, the course number, and the course name. For example, if I were typing up notes for an abstract algebra course, I'd title the document something like "MATH 123: Introduction to Abstract Algebra". Here is that title typeset in Libertinus Serif with different combinations of capitalization and figure styles:

Title options

Option 1 (all caps and lining figures) is what I currently have. The abbreviation looks out of place since it's all cap-height, which is why I'm considering the other 4 options. However, none of them stand out to me as particularly good solutions.

On one hand, Option 2 (small caps and lining figures) and Option 4 (small caps and text figures) both preserve the uniform capitalization of the abbreviation but look somewhat strange since the abbreviation clashes with the rest of the title case text. On the other hand, Option 3 (mixed caps and lining figures) and Option 5 (mixed caps and text figures) fit with the rest of the title case text but don't preserve the uniformity of the abbreviation's glyph heights (plus, the mixed capitalization would look really strange if the abbreviation weren't a real word, such as "CS" for Computer Science).

Answers to other posts don't seem to share a consensus on the matter. This answer recommends preserving the capitalization while this one and this one recommend preserving the abbreviation, and most simply recommend rephrasing to avoid abbreviations at the start of a sentence. My situation is somewhat different since I'm not typesetting running text and there's no good way for me to rephrase the text.

Since this appears to basically boil down to personal preference, which option would you prefer and why? I'd like to hear some other people's opinions on the matter.

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  • Could you ask your tutors to explain your organisation’s house style, or rephrase the Question, or both? Apart from anything else it’s generally considered unhelpful by SE Users, to Post graphics instead of text when talking about details of that text. May 11 at 20:06
  • I personally happen to find your options three and five more attractive but so what? How is my personal view more or less valid than anyone else's… or than the one of your own that I didn't see expressed? May 11 at 20:14
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    @RobbieGoodwin There is no style guide, as these are simply my own personal lecture notes for a course that I've taken.
    – bonk
    May 12 at 5:29
  • Yes and aren't such purely personal choices automatically off topic throughout SE? If the institution doesn't normally present its course titles in at least in a consistent, if not on officially prescribed style, then it seems to matter all the less, and I think Sorry I bothered you, particularly when my real quibble is that this kind of fretting is too much like fiddling while Rome burns, which if unchecked will soon start taking too much of your time. May 12 at 14:09

3 Answers 3

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I would rule out the uppercase small caps, which, arguably, defeat the purpose of using small caps. I would also rule out lining figures, because those work better with normal case type.

I would pick your version #4, in complete lowercase small caps, and text figures.

Then, all your 5 versions lack some information priority, because you are squeezing too much into a single line.

To separate this better and remove the "clash with the rest of the title", I would break this into distinct lines and enlarge the font size on the "Introduction to.." part.

This way, you make it very clear that the main title of the document is "Introduction to..", while "Math 123" is secondary. Yes, even if they are reversed, the difference in font size will dictate their priority.

enter image description here

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    Agreed. And in a running header or similar, where multiline content isn’t really an option, I’d separate them with something ‘stronger’ than a simple colon, like “MATH 123 • Introduction to Abstract Algebra”. (In case it doesn’t work properly in the comment here, that’s meant to be a double space surrounding the interpunct, and the caps should be small caps.) May 11 at 7:59
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    No, you wouldn't. "uppercase small caps" is a contradiction in terms May 11 at 18:51
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    Hopefully, no-one would really consider a correctly-used colon as less "strong" that the odd blob thrown in there. The colon is a correct part of typography and graphic design. The odd blob thrown in there is simply a blob, however odd. May 11 at 18:55
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    @RobbieGoodwin When used inline as here, a colon form part of a sentence and as such is not generally seen as a separator between suprasentential elements. An interpunct (which is not a ‘blob’, what a nonsensical thing to say) is not sentence-level punctuation and is therefore often used precisely to indicate that adjacent elements do not belong to one sentence. May 11 at 20:29
  • @Janus Bahs Jacquet What nonsense! How could a colon be used but in-line or as part of a sentence? FYI a colon is always a separator. If suprasentential elements help, can you give examples? “MATH 123 • Introduction to Abstract Algebra” might belong to PowerPoint but that's about pure graphics, not their application to typography. Here, an interpunct clearly is a ‘blob’; what a nonsensical point to worry about. Here, a colon is always uninterested in sentences, except to point out that though they might appear not to, adjacent elements do indeed belong to one sentence. May 11 at 20:54
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To my mind, in academic and technical writing* full caps is likely to be correct for an abbreviation (initialism or acronym), but unlikely in other cases. A course code could be "MATH123" or "MATH 123", but if it's "Math123" or even "math123" (also with spaces), going for full caps would be incorrect. Here, department codes are all-caps, and course codes don't look like they contain words but are alphanumeric with uppercase letters.

On the other hand, small caps are logically equivalent to lowercase, and starting a sentence or title with lowercase is generally avoided (any capitalisation other than "pH" for the symbol in chemistry is just plain wrong; titles are usually worded so it doesn't appear at the start.

Copy-pasting of small caps is inconsistent as unicode small caps are sometimes output, but a when properly done using font formats, small caps semantically map to lowercase. Web searching is generally case-insensitive, but not all systems are, so I'd prefer to match the case if pasted into a plain-test field.

On the whole, I'd stick to true uppercase as that seems to be the course code convention - if this document is for general consumption and publication.

* where my rule of thumb is "clarity first", and exactly matching terminology is often important.

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If you can’t ask your tutors to explain your organisation’s house style, or rephrase the Question, or both, please consider these few points:

Since the styling of “Introduction to Abstract Algebra” is unchanging, how is it relevant?

Through 20 years in publication and design, I never noticed either “full caps” or “lining figures”. Could this be some difference between British and US American English, or what?

“… full caps” might mean either “all caps” or “upper case caps”. Which one works for you, either technically or in layman’s terms? I assume “small …” means “lower-case caps”. Is that right?

What are “lining figures” or “text figures”?

Does “preserve the uniform capitalization” mean “keep the word - here ’math’ - in all capitals” or what?

“… the abbreviation clashes with the rest of the titlecase text” doesn’t work, for two reasons. First, there is no clash: that’s what, in this context, colons are for… one side goes one way, the other goes another way and there is no clash. Secondly, “titlecase” isn’t a thing in typography or the parts of graphic design related to typography. “titlecase” has meaning only in (some) word-processing apps, who’s names can’t matter here.

“Mixed caps” would be difficult to place in typography. It might mean the first word started in upper-case and was followed by lower-case caps… but what rule would apply to a second or any subsequent words and how, exactly? “Mixed caps and text figures” looks like magnifying that problem. What’s meant by that having “the opposite issue…” I can’t guess.

If “mixed capitalization” had a clear meaning, how would that make it look strange if the abbreviation wasn't a real word, such as "CS" for “Computer Science”? Neither "CS" nor “Computer Science” is “a real word”. What did you really mean?

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    This isn't really an answer.
    – Yorik
    May 11 at 20:49
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    As to "text figures", would this answer your question: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Text_figures ? Sorry but it's really hard to imagine how you were able to avoid such obvious and ubiquitous typographical details during your 20 years in publication...
    – Gábor
    May 11 at 21:25
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    @Robbie Goodwin The styling of "Intro... Algebra" is relevant because the whole point of my question is to ask about how I could make the course abbreviation and number fit within the context of the surrounding text.
    – bonk
    May 12 at 4:34
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    I used "full caps" to differentiate it from small caps. I've since changed it to "all caps" for clarity. By "mixed caps" I mean having the abbreviation start with a capital letter followed by small caps, which of course mixes the two capitalization styles. The image that I included makes what I mean pretty clear.
    – bonk
    May 12 at 4:38
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    By "preserve the uniform capitalization" I mean that the abbreviation is supposed to be in all caps like in the example that I gave in the first paragraph of my question. The mathematics department would have the abbreviation "MATH", the computer science department would have "CS", the history department would have "HIST", etc. Mixing regular caps with small caps (hence why I wrote "mixed caps") looks fine for "Math" but obviously not for "Cs", and doing so goes against the university's styling conventions anyway.
    – bonk
    May 12 at 4:50

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