Overcapitalization: It’s a capital offence

This is not a campaign to bring back capital punishment but a discussion on the wrongful overuse of capital letters in text. Why does it matter? Excessive use of capital letters in a text can give it a ‘bitty’, busy, or disjointed appearance, making it more difficult and time consuming for the reader to work through. It is a temptation for writers to capitalize the initial letters of words or terms they consider important, but if emphasis is required then use of lower case in italic or bold is visually just as impactful and looks more professional. (Note: underlining words for emphasis is often considered undesirable.)

The following are offered as general guidelines for what should be capitalized:
  • People’s names, such as John Smith, and other proper names of bodies, organizations, and buildings such as the National Lottery, the National Gallery, and the Victoria and Albert Museum 
  • Titles and ranks are usually capitalized where they accompany a personal name: for example, King Henry VIII or Prime Minister James Callaghan, but ‘James Callaghan was prime minister until 1979’. Use lower case in general usage such as ‘kings and queens were present at the wedding’, ‘there were several army captains and majors at the dinner’, and ‘the prime ministers of Japan and Russia met for talks’ 
  • Periods of history and events: for example the Industrial Revolution, the Second World War, and the Iron Age.
  • Geographical names, for example use upper case in recognized geographical areas: the Middle East and Western Australia but not where used in general terms such as southern Europe or western values
  • Trade names: for example Virgin Media, John Lewis, and Carlsberg Lager.
  • Political parties: for example the Labour Party, but use lower case for general use such as ‘liberal values’ and ‘conservative tastes’.
  • Institutions: parliament is often used with a lower case ‘p’ but the House, Lords and Commons are often capitalized. Lower case ‘state’ is often used, except where used in books on political theory. Capitals are often used for short-form reference to the title of a specified person, institution, or organization previously referred to in full in the text: for example ‘the Ministry’.
  • Religious denominations: for example Protestant and Sikh. In text ‘church’ is often lower case except when used as part of a title, such as ‘the Roman Catholic Church’. 
  • The first letter of a grammatically complete sentence.

So in conclusion, less is more.