Early in elementary school, we learn capitalization rules. For example, my daughter learned to capitalize the first word of a sentence and names, like Addison, as a first-grader.
So, what goes haywire? First, we forget rules that we don’t often use. Then, we step into the business world and somehow toss some of the other capitalization rules out the window.
Why? It’s easy to forget what we learned in elementary school. And most of us don’t have a first grader around to relive those rules first-hand through the eyes of a child.
Second, heading into adulthood, a rebellious spirit permits us to break a few of the grammar rules every English teacher taught us along the way.
My favorite rule to break is ending the sentence in a preposition. What’s a preposition used for? See, I just broke a rule. But is that an actual rule or a suggestion?
But after years of marketing, I discovered why most business writers get capitalization happy and commit this capital offense. They want to emphasize or highlight something to catch the reader’s attention. So, to signify its importance, they capitalize the word or phrase even when it shouldn’t be.
If you’re committing this crime, I can help you get back on track. First, I’ll share some of the most common mistakes made in capitalization. Then, I’ll show you how to make text stand out in your marketing.
Ensure your marketing scores an A in grammar by conquering these rules we tend to ignore.
Capitalize proper nouns. A proper noun is a noun that identifies a single entity and is used to refer to that entity, such as London, Jupiter, Sarah, or Microsoft. Don’t capitalize common nouns. A common noun is a noun that refers to a class of entities (city, planet, person, corporation, marketing).
Correct: We visited Mount Rushmore on spring break.
Correct: We explored many sites in a national park while traveling across the United States.
Capitalize days, months, and holidays, but not seasons. For example, fall, spring, summer, and winter are all common nouns.
Correct: Spring and summer are my favorite seasons.
Correct: Christmas brings families and friends together to celebrate the birth of Jesus.
Correct: April begins on Thursday this year.
When you write the full formal name of the degree, you capitalize the name of the degree and the subject, but not when it’s referred to in general. Instead, it’s written in lowercase.
Correct: I was awarded my master’s degree in marketing.
Correct: I was awarded my Master of Arts in Marketing.
Correct: I studied marketing at the University of Alabama.
You capitalize job titles when it comes immediately before the person’s name. If you’re only describing a position, you won’t capitalize it. Don’t capitalize unofficial titles or those that are common nouns.
Correct: We’ve contacted Professor Bunn to comment on the stability of the future economy.
Correct: William Smith works as a professor at a local university in the economics department.
Correct: Director of Marketing, Shanna Green, will share insights on the success of our digital strategy.
Correct: Head of our marketing department, Shanna Green, will share her insights.
Correct: We’re sharing five tips from our painter, James Graves.
Now, if you’re writing a resume, you would capitalize the title when it appears as a headline. However, you wouldn’t capitalize job titles used in sentences in the body of the resume.
Correct: Director of Marketing (2018 – 2019)
When using the full formal name of a department, capitalize it. Otherwise, write it in lowercase.
Correct: The Office of Financial Aid will provide resources.
Correct: Contact financial aid to help you find the resources you need.
Don’t capitalize a committee, center, group, program, institute, or initiative unless it’s officially recognized and formally named. You can often check the organization’s style guide to determine which programs and initiatives receive capitalization. Capitalize brand names.
Correct: Grab a box of Kellogg’s cereal at the store.
Correct: Fuel for the future supplies students with tools for school.
Directions don’t get capitalized unless when used to refer to a specific region of a country.
Correct: We’ll take the interstate north to drive home.
Correct: I’ve eaten the best casseroles in the South.
While other capitalization rules exist but in business writing, I find these get violated the most. And when in doubt, use a lowercase letter. It’s the safest bet.
Make Text Stand Out
With so many words now in lowercase, how do you make your text jump off the page? First, if you capitalize everything, nothing will stand out.
I Want Everything to POP, so Let’s Capitalize Everything. The Problem is Your Eyes won’t see Anything Special in the Text, and Everything Looks the Same.
Have you seen this happen? Yep, me too. Instead, try these six ways to make a word or phrase grab the reader’s attention and want to keep reading like it’s the juiciest fiction novel they can’t put down.
- Try bolding what you want readers to see and not skip.
- Use a different color font.
- Put a word or small phrase in all CAPS – but only a word or a few words.
- Combine BOLDING and CAPS for extra emphasis.
- Use italics within the body of the text.
- Combine bolding and italics for a double effect.
As you use these methods, remember that too much of anything can ruin a good thing. Use these tips sparingly.
Did you notice, I didn’t recommend underlining your text? Underlining text can work for printed materials, but it doesn’t translate online. People mistake it for a link when it’s not. So, be careful not to confuse online readers.
Have you broken any of the eight rules covered? We all have at some point and survived. The grammar Gods didn’t descend upon you to snatch you from your cubicle for a quick English lesson like you’re in first grade.
But now that you’ve gotten a refresh on the top capitalization rules for business, you can glide into your future a little less capital happy. So, here’s to mastering these rules like a pro!
Leave me a comment and let me know which rule you tend to break most often. Looking to improve your writing skills? Check out these tips to write better.
Ready, set, grow!
All my best,