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Thursday, January 17, 2013

Capital offenders: the case against uppercase | David Marsh, Mind your language, guardian.co.uk

This article rang a bell with me. In my last position with the transit agency serving Seattle/King County, I supervised a group responsible for producing customer information, including signs at bus stops, on buses and at other transit facilities.

Without trying to be a tyrant about it, I encouraged my staff to use a mix of uppercase and lowercase letters in signs (and in print and Web documents). My preference for all printed materials is for capitalizing the first letter of proper names and the first letter of the first word in sentences and headlines--and to do so consistently. Capitalizing the first letter of key words is sometimes acceptable, especially in document titles.

But capitalizing all the letters of all words can hinder readability and comprehension. And it can dissuade people from even reading a document--or a sign--if more than two or three words, or a single line, is all-caps.

Or, as this article begins:

IT'S OFFICIAL: CAPITAL LETTERS CAN BE DANGEROUS.
At least, that's what the US federal highway administration believes. According to the New York Post:
"Studies have shown that it is harder to read all-caps signs, and those extra milliseconds spent staring away from the road have been shown to increase the likelihood of accidents, particularly among older drivers."
Here's some of my related advice on capitalization in Garbl's Editorial Style Manual:
Rule No. 1: Use capital letters to begin proper nouns, sentences, headings, some abbreviations and acronyms, and the important words in composition titles. Proper nouns are the particular names of people, places and things. Rule No. 2: Do not capitalize the first letter of a word (or words in a phrase) simply to highlight it or because you or someone else think it's an important word. Excessive, arbitrary capitalization distracts the reader and hinders reading.
Check this or another style manual for capitalization of a particular word or type of word. If not listed there, check your dictionary. And if still in doubt, lowercase.
Except for acronyms and some abbreviations, avoid capitalizing all the letters in a word, sentence, heading, headline or phrase--including brand names, logos and trademarks. For emphasis, try other typographical uses instead, such as boldfacing, italics, colortype size and different but complementary typefaces. 
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Marsh's  article is featured today, Jan. 17, in my daily online paper, Garbl's Style: Write Choices, available at the Editorial Style tab above and by free email subscription.
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