Stop Shouting at Your Readers! When to use capitals in your copy.

The Germans have always had too many capitals

I’m not talking about Berlin and Bonn; when I started my German GCSE many years ago, the language was strange and new, not least because you have to write every Noun with a Capital Letter. However, since I’ve started writing (and rewriting) other people’s web copy as Bill Blogs, I can’t help but notice that the ‘German vice’ has spread across the North Sea.

I do my best to make my copy easily readable and sometimes that means bending the occasional grammar rule. Thankfully, we don’t have a grammar police to tell us what we can and can’t do, which is why English is one of the most creative languages around. However, knowing the rules helps everyone to interpret and understand written English a little easier, so they shouldn’t be set aside lightly; that includes sticking capital letters in the middle of sentences where they aren’t warranted.

Too many capitals also disrupt the flow of a sentence and can make a text look shouty and a bit desperate, which is probably the opposite effect to the one you want for your web copy.

Funnily enough, I’ve also studied a little Arabic and that script doesn’t need capital letters at all. Letters do change their form if they appear at the start of a word and the end of a sentence is marked with a.

 

I suspect that the proliferation of capital letters isn’t just about trying to grab attention but because it can be confusing to know when to use capitals and when not, especially if you belong to that generation, like me, that was left by education experts to ‘absorb’ grammar through experiment, or something.

When to use capital letters

Here are the occasions when I would use capitals:

  • Marking the start of a sentence: or maybe a bullet point, like this.
  • For I: but not for me, or you.
  • Proper nouns: the names of people, places and organisations and the adjectives that derive from them (Wildean wit, Christian, English language). However, I try not to capitalise the small words like ‘of’, ‘in’ or ‘and’ – Duke of Edinburgh.
  • Abbreviations: Eg BBC or UN, but small words are often in lower case (eg DoE, or e.g. for that matter!). In some cases they’re ignored altogether (USA).
  • Titles and headers for chapters and paragraphs: but only the key words, not the small words. I tend to use sentence case for headers and sub headings when I’m writing online; I just think it’s more inviting to read.

If in doubt, leave them out

This being English, there are always exceptions but I’d rather read a text with too few capitals than the other way around.  It makes for much easier reading, and you really don’t want to make life harder for a potential lead do you?

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