Basic capitalization practices are ingrained in many of us. Our pinkies seem to instinctively hit the shift key when we start new sentences or type our colleagues' names. However, not all capitalization decisions are so clear-cut.
Today's eTip answers three capitalization questions that cause business writers (and editors!) headaches.
When should I capitalize items in a list?
Capitalize the first word in each item in a list typed in an outline style, even if the list item does not form a complete sentence.
Come to the meeting prepared to discuss the following:
- The latest building plan
- Changes to the original blueprint
- Cost analysis and environmental impact
Do not capitalize the first words in such a list if all together the items compose a complete sentence.
Come to the meeting prepared with
- a presentation of the latest building plan,
- an explanation of the changes to the original blueprint, and
- an updated cost analysis and environmental impact statement.
When should I capitalize job titles and descriptions?
Capitalize the first letter of each major word of an employee’s title when it precedes that person’s name. Leave it lowercase if it follows the name or appears alone.
Marketing Manager Diane Barnhart will give her report at today’s meeting.
Diane Barnhart, marketing manager, will give her report at today’s meeting.
The marketing manager will give her report at today’s meeting.
When should I capitalize departments, committees, or other subentities?
Capitalize the formal names of subentities of an organization.
Research and Development
Writing Center Committee
Please submit your application to Human Resources.
However, do not capitalize if you are referring to an individual's specialty or are emphasizing a general area of expertise.
Mary Beth does marketing for our company.
We’ll assign some accounting experts to oversee the merger.
It's helpful to approach capitalization as a set of conventional practices rather than hard-and-fast rules. The practices in this tip follow the advice of The Chicago Manual of Style. However, other style guides may recommend slightly different capitalization standards.
What does this mean for you? First, familiarize yourself with the style your employer advocates. (You might need to do a little research.) Second, and most importantly, when you find a capitalization style that fits your work situation, worry less about "rules" and more about consistency.