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To Capitalise, or not to capitalise
14 January 2014

Big ‘C’, little ‘c’

We do a lot of writing for our clients across a variety of media, such as social, print and web.

A discussion we often have with our clients involves capitalisation of ‘words of importance’ from their workplace or industry. 

Capitals are usually reserved for the first word of a sentence and proper nouns, such as the names of places, people, planets, days of the week, months, organisations and buildings.  Capital letters are not needed at the start of common nouns, such as bus, engineer, farmer, market, and so on. 

Use of capitals for common nouns is a style decision and not a technical decision. 

For example, someone might talk about their very important ‘Clients’, and capitalise the ‘C’ in order to convey the importance of the clients.  Client is a common noun and so does not need capitalisation.  Another example is the capitalisation of job titles, such as Communications and Business Manager.  The job title can be classed as a proper noun, and capitalised, or it can also be classed as a common noun, and left as lower case.  In this situation, capitalisation is a style decision and not a technical one.

Cheeky Rooster’s advice on the use of capitals

If capitalisation is a style decision, when should we and when should we not?  We always advise clients to err away from any unnecessary use of capitals - always!  Here’s why.

Think of words as pictures

When we first learn to read, we learn the sounds of each letter, the sounds associated with groups of letters and finally, the sounds of a whole word.  Nowadays, children are taught to read via this sound based system called ‘phonics’.  In addition to learning the sounds, we also commit to memory what the word looks like, called ‘sight word reading’.

Combine the two and we have an audial and a visual memory of each word, and of course, we build in an understanding of the meaning of the word as well.

It is the visual memory that we are most interested in here.

As we become more proficient readers, we cease to see the individual letters of a word.  Instead, our brains learn to recognise the general shape of a word, including the top line, bottom line, familiar groups of letters, and the first and last letters of the word.  To illustrate this point, you may have seen examples like the one below:

A vheclie epxledod at a plocie cehckipont near the UN haduqertares in Bagahdd on Mnoday kilinlg the bmober and an Irqai polcie offceir. (If yuo can raed this yuo msut be raelly smrat).

The letters within many of the words are completely jumbled, but there is enough recognisable information remaining for you to understand which words they are meant to be.  That is, the ‘picture’ of the word has not changed enough for your brain to register a different word. You can read more about letter and word recognition.

When the concept of word recognition is taken to the extreme, such as in speed reading courses, the reader is taught to read only the words in the middle of each line and to deduce the content on either side.

Changing the word recognition slows the reader down 

By now, you might be wondering how this is relevant to capitalisation of common nouns;

Capitalising a word, that is not normally capitalised, changes the shape or ‘picture’ of the word. Put plainly, changing the shape of a word will slow down your readers and make them less likely to read what you have written.

Since few people have time to read detailed bodies of text, you can make it easier for them by dropping any unnecessary capitals – and as a result, your text becomes as accessible as possible.

 

SV

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