Don’t play god with capital letters

The single largest ongoing debate I’ve had with clients over the years revolves around when they should capitalize words. My two big pieces of advice:
1. Capitalize sparingly, as it’s more difficult to read and can appear intimidating. Worse, it can lead down a slippery slope.
2. Be consistent. Pick a style guide and use it all the time.

Capitalize sparingly
In Canada, most writers and editors use the Canadian Press Stylebook, which keep capitals to a minimum, even in titles and headlines. Some other guides use caps in the main words of headlines. Take your pick.

I prefer to reserve capital letters for the first letter in a sentence and proper names. Zealous capitalization can imply a God-like status, or should I say god-like.

What irks me most is the Slippery Slope of Capitalization, irony intended. This happens when people, often executives, try to bestow significance on their ideas by capitalizing them.

If their ideas become a project worthy of a proper name, that’s okay. But if they keep writing about Business Transformation, Structural Reinvention, Systems Synergy and Product Innovation, their caps become less meaningful. Even worse, they don’t help regular people understand what the heck they’re talking about. In fact, they can scare them.

If they want to inject gravitas, a better approach would be to clearly explain what they mean and how it benefits the reader. Important though these concepts may be to leaders, capitalizing is a lazy and ineffective way of helping their audience appreciate what they mean, let alone its significance.

Capitalize consistently
Another ongoing debate is the need to capitalize job titles and departments, treating them like proper names.

Although I prefer lower case, I’m fine with people who insist on the capitalization, as long as they’re consistent and drop the capital when they’re using plurals, as in “Director, IT” but “The directors attended the meeting.”

I know I’m not the only one dealing with the issue of when to capitalize. Recently it came up on a discussion on my IABC Linkedin group about my posts on the biggest grammar mistakes to avoid.

Because of strong personal preference and varying standards, the debate is bound to continue. But I know my tired eyes would like more people to use capitals sparingly and consistently.


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