How to save money on copy editing #6: When to use capital letters

editing process in writing Australia

This is going to be short and sweet, because the basics of capitalisation are all most people have to know. Attending to these two points alone will save you money on copy editing.

In short, only use a capital letter for proper nouns. Proper nouns are the names of specific people, places and organisations, such as the Eiffel Tower, Tom, Auntie Gerry and Emu Creek.

We don’t allocate capital letters to non-specific nouns, such as (to use the examples above) tower, boy, auntie and creek. This is where lots of people get into trouble, particularly people writing their first business book, who feel the need to emphasise the Important Words in Their Industry or in a particular Sentence. (Note: the capitals in the previous sentence are examples of what not to do.)

As editors, examples we see all the time include people thinking that teachers or childcare workers or plumbers or doctors are not valued highly enough, so they take it upon themselves to, apparently, grant higher status by capitalising the words. But, guess what? It doesn’t automatically grant higher status, it just looks silly! (And, more importantly, makes your sentence harder to read.)

Ahhh, but what about ‘doctor’, I hear you say? Doctor takes a capital – think about Doctor Eillingham, Doctor Phil and Doctor Who.

Yep, you’re right. The doctors take capital letters as part of their proper name, just as mine would be Ms Ann Bolch. (Not ms Ann Bolch.)

The other area people in business tend to over capitalise is words that they believe need emphasising. An example:

‘The most important element of Business is Relationships.’

Nuh, it doesn’t work. To most of us this just looks like a company called Business is Relationships, which would be a good name for a company, no? Quick! Register it.

 Another example:

‘To be a Winner, you must Train Hard, Sleep Well and Show Up.’

This overly capitalised group of words is hard to read and sounds like you’re SHOUTING. In the past, capitals have been used to signify shouting; now that’s passé.

Instead of MAX CAPS for emphasis, try the softer italics. (Bold and underline are also considered uncool.)  

Better still, choose your words carefully. Cut back the jargon, be careful with metaphor, know your own tics and take care not to overwrite.

May your words pour onto the page,