Capital offence: the rules for using capital letters
Using capital letters correctly will improve the professionalism of your business writing.
Capital letters are often overused and used inconsistently. Other than looking unprofessional, incorrect capitalisation can decrease readability, which impacts communication and engagement. This overview will help you avoid committing any capital offences!
Always capitalise …
There are two fundamental rules about what to capitalise:
Sentences should always begin with a capital letter.
Initial capitals should be used for proper nouns – the names of places, people and organisations.
Buildings and public places, e.g. Bourke Street Mall, Melbourne Town Hall
Holidays and events, e.g. Labour Day, Small Business Festival Victoria
Organisation and business names, e.g. Moreland Energy Foundation, Gauge Espresso
Trademarks, brand and product names, e.g. Aeroplane Jelly, Beechworth Pale Ale
Titles, e.g. Ms, Dr, Minister
Legislation (also italicised), e.g. Copyright Act 1968
Journals, newspapers and magazines (also italicised), e.g. The Age, Journal of Marketing Communications
Rarely capitalise ...
Articles, prepositions and conjuctions (such as ‘a’, ‘and’, 'in', 'of' ‘or’, 'the') are only capitalised at the beginning of sentences, headings or titles. For example, 'the' is capitalised in newspaper title The Australian, but 'of' is not capitalised in National Gallery of Victoria.
Sometimes the normal rules of capitalisation are broken for stylistic reasons. A brand or product name may not have an initial capital, such as the iconic iPhone. Or capitals may be abandoned altogether, as is the preference of singer k.d. lang.
You choose ...
Further to these rules, you have a choice of capitalisation style for things like headings and book titles. Traditionally maximal capitalisation was the norm. Modern, minimalist style means limited capitalisation is now common.
In my opinion, minimal capitalisation looks cleaner and is more readable. However, if you prefer maximal capitalisation, then use it! The key is to be consistent with the style you choose. Ensure your preferred capitalisation style is added to your business’s writing style guide.
Examples using minimal capitalisation
General titles and headings, e.g. What is content marketing?
Book titles, periodicals, articles, web documents (also italicised), e.g. The vanishing act of Esme Lennox, All marketers are liars
Song titles (also in quotation marks), e.g. ‘Dazed and confused’, ‘Boots of Spanish leather’
Movies, television and radio programs, podcasts, e.g. Upper middle bogan, The bridge on the River Kwai
Examples using maximal capitalisation
General titles and headings, e.g. What is Content Marketing?
Book titles, periodicals, articles, web documents (also italicised), e.g. The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox, All Marketers are Liars
Song titles (also in quotation marks), e.g. ‘Dazed and Confused’, ‘Boots of Spanish Leather’
Movies, television and radio programs, podcasts, e.g. Upper Middle Bogan, The Bridge on the River Kwai
FULLY CAPITALISED HEADINGS
When formatting documents with multiple heading hierarchies, I would suggest ALL CAPS be used sparingly. This style may be required to differentiate between hierarchies, but be aware that readability is compromised when lengthy headings are formatted using all capitals. For shorter headings this isn’t such an issue.
For more grammar tips, see my blog posts on writing time and using dashes correctly.