I just came to realize this problem with chapter titles in my thesis.

I'm using small caps for them, but I also noticed that (because I'm use to it) I wrote them in titlecase, e.g.:

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However, if I use a long chapter title, I'm not so sure if it looks ok...

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Since I'm not a graphic designer, nor my aesthetics are very good (go figure, I'm a scientist) I would like your help on what should I do:

  1. Go completely with lower case
  2. Use titlecase
  3. Use upper case for all of them
  4. Use Capital letter on the first word of the title
  • 1
    Is there any meaningful difference between lower case in small block caps and upper case in a small font size?
    – TRiG
    Jun 3, 2014 at 13:09
  • 2
    @TRiG If the font has proper small-caps, then yes. Jun 3, 2014 at 14:46

3 Answers 3


The short answer is that it is a matter of taste.

The longer answer is that "small caps" were developed for use within running text so that "all capitals," when you stand back and squint, have a similar texture and color to the regular surrounding text. This was typically a hand-crafted font and not just a smaller point size.

From that perspective, "small caps" is not intended to be mixed with "regular caps." And if you subscribe to such things, then this is the only correct thing to do. Then again, it used to be a thing to wear stockings and powdered wigs.

However, it is obviously a common thing to mix small caps with regular caps for stylistic reasons, so why not?

Personally I have used them in the past and even done things like "Technological backgrounD," but my current taste is all caps or nothing. I think that if you are thinking about it and you think it looks "not so great," then trust your judgement and go with all caps. Use a Display Titles font if available and maybe increase the tracking (letter spacing) slightly.

If there is a departmental style guide which prescribes typesetting, you should follow it.

  • Nah, there is no style guide. I'm creating it :D Jun 3, 2014 at 14:45
  • So, if I were to use everything the same (in small caps, of course), should I go all upper case or all lower case? Jun 3, 2014 at 15:14
  • If you have no special small-caps font, then "lower case" small caps is just uppercase letters rendered at ~75% of the selected point size. I think that it is best to use any "all caps" styling feature in software: you leave the text in the appropriate title case and then style it with all caps.
    – horatio
    Jun 3, 2014 at 15:55
  • It has appropriate small caps :) (lmodern in LaTeX) Jun 3, 2014 at 20:05

Set the titles in All Caps and make the type size a little smaller than your current small caps.

Two reasons for this:

  • Title case with small caps is like using bold italics. Either bold or italic is fine on its own for emphasis, so using both is redundant.

  • The particular typeface you're using doesn't have true Small Caps, so the initial cap is slightly bolder than the rest of the word (because these "small caps" are just capitals at a smaller point size). It looks ugly.

  • But the font I'm using has true small caps... Jun 4, 2014 at 9:48
  • 1
    Nonetheless, they aren't in evidence in your sample text, which is clearly set with scaled-down caps, not true small caps. Jun 4, 2014 at 16:09
  • beware applying this on the web. make sure you are using opentype font and turning on its ligatures via css3/js, etc. its not fun to get it x-browser
    – albert
    Jun 20, 2014 at 0:20

This is an interesting problem. I can understand that aesthetically, you might prefer to see all letters in Small-Caps, but if the word(s) need a capital for the first letter (such as a city, name of a person etc), then it must have this for future proofing the content, or delivery in some other form.

So, if, at some time, the style of the content is likely to be changed (by using normal rather than Small-Caps), then you are stuck with the whole text in lowercase.

When the content is delivered on a web site, or an eBook, the user may choose to use a different font or turn off styling from the publisher - again this may leave the text of the word set in all lowercase. You don't want to see 'new york' instead of 'New York'.

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