- On June 13, 2015
When I read copy that capitalizes lots of words, I feel as though I’m bobbing for apples, that game where you lean over a tub of water filled with floating apples and try to grasp them with your teeth. The apples bob up and down, and so does your head. It’s not a comfortable feeling.
It’s hard to absorb information when the words go up and down. Consider this sentence:
Leadership, Senior Management, and other employees are committed to developing an Operational and Organizational Plan that joins the Business Strategy and the Communications Strategy.
The only word in that sentence that should start with a capital letter is leadership, because it’s the first word in the sentence. Senior management, operational and organizational plan, business strategy, and communications strategy are not proper nouns—specific people, places, or things—so they shouldn’t be capitalized.
Companies have a tendency to capitalize generic terms as a way of saying, “This is important, so pay attention.” After being hacked, Sony Pictures sent a memo to news organizations warning them not to use or disseminate any of the “Stolen Information.” The capital letters seemed to imbue the message with legal authority, which I suppose was Sony’s intention.
You definitely don’t want your everyday business copy to read like a legal document.
Yes, every company is entitled to its own house style—I don’t think I’ve ever come across a company that doesn’t refer to itself as the Company—but strive to reserve your capitals for words that are official designations of people, places, or things. You will look all the more authoritative for it.
In researching this bulletin, I came across this good summary of when (and when not) to use capitalization. The Associated Press Stylebook and The Chicago Manual of Style are also good references.
For guidance on how to treat headlines, see “Upper or Lower? That Is the Question.”