Full Stops in Titles, Headings and Captions
As a general rule, a full stop is not used at the end of a displayed title, heading, subheading or caption in scholarly English prose. This applies whether the displayed text is the title at the top of a document, a heading or subheading within the document, or a heading or caption used for a table, figure, appendix or other ancillary element. However, there are several instances in which full stops are required, as outlined below.
• Full stops should be used whenever the relevant guidelines indicate that full stops (also called full points and periods) should close titles, headings and captions, wherever they may appear within a document. It is therefore imperative to consult author instructions and pay careful attention to any details about headings and their formats.
• Paragraph run-in headings do tend to close with a full stop or in some cases a colon. Such headings function as structural and logical divisions and appear at the beginning of paragraphs, but within the main text instead of separated from it in a displayed format The single-word paragraph headings within structured abstracts are good examples (Methodology. The methods employed include…).
• Strictly speaking, a full stop is not required at the end of a table heading, but guidelines tend to indicate the preference for a stop in table headings more often than in the headings within a main text, so do watch the publisher’s instructions for this. Some table headings are very long, so when a table heading consists of more than one sentence, a full stop should be used after each sentence, including the final one.
• As with table headings, figure captions require closure with a full stop more often than the headings in a main text do. In fact, guidelines will sometimes indicate the need for full stops after figure captions when they do not call for full stops after table headings. When figure captions run on to more than one sentence, a full stop should be used after each sentence, including the last one.
• The titles and headings for appendices and other ancillary material such as lists and indices generally follow the same principles as the title and headings for the main text do, so full stops are usually not required. Again, however, if a heading contains more than one sentence, full stops should be used.
• Consistency is important when designing headings, so if the structure of one table heading necessitates a closing full stop, one should usually be used after all table headings, even short ones, to maintain a consistent format. The same principle applies to any particular type of heading (all figure headings, for instance) throughout a document.
• When headings and captions are numbered, full stops are generally used in conjunction with the numbers whether the headings appear within the main text or on tables, figures or other parts of a document. If the heading uses a single number, the full stop is usually placed after the number and followed by a space (3. Methodology). In such cases, no punctuation is also common, and in tables and figures, a colon can be used instead of the full stop. If, on the other hand, the heading features multiple numbers, full stops are used between the numbers, but usually not after the last number (3.1.4 Blending Methods).
• Referring to parts of a document can mean using full stops even when they do not appear in the original headings or captions. For instance, if a document includes appendices that contain tables and there is a need to refer to one of those tables, the reference must distinguish that particular table from any table with the same number within the main document, so a little more information will be necessary, often along with a full stop. The second table in Appendix B can be mentioned as Figure B2, but if the appendices are numbered rather than lettered, matters will become confusing unless a full stop is added. Figure 2.2 is clearly the second figure in Appendix 2, whereas Figure 22 is not.
• Remember whenever you are formatting titles, headings and captions that any special fonts you use should be extended to the final full stop if one is included.
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