3 More Answers to Questions About Capitalization

By Mark Nichol

Whether to capitalize words is one of the most frequent issues that come up in the queries of DailyWritingTips email subscribers and site visitors. Here are three such questions and my responses.

1. When do I capitalize the word customer in a sentence? For example, is it correct to write, “This is very important, because there could be other ways to satisfy the Customer that you may not be aware of”?
Customers are important, but references to them do not merit capitalization. Customer(s) is generic, just like men, women, people, and the like. This kind of gratuitous capitalization is common in business writing — I suppose it’s meant to convey the value of the person or product so treated — but it’s an awkward solution. Why not communicate that sentiment naturally in the message rather than by artificial visual emphasis? Before capitalizing a word, writers should ask themselves, “Why should this word be capitalized?”

2. When referring to steps within a process, do I capitalize steps? For example, should I write, “After completing Step 1, go to Step 6”?
The Chicago Manual of Style recommends lowercasing references to parts of books, even when they’re numbered: “part 1,” “chapter 2,” “section 3,” and so on, and though it doesn’t refer to steps, I would follow that rule for elements of a procedure. (However, The Associated Press Stylebook recommends capitalization for numbered parts of books.)

3. Should names of dog breeds be capitalized — for example, pomeranian, labrador, “bull terrier,” “American pit bull terrier”?
Dog breeds are not capitalized unless the name is that of a geographic region: Pomeranian, “Labrador retriever,” “bull terrier”, “American pit bull terrier.” (Dalmatian is an exception; it’s usually lowercase, but I would probably uppercase it when it appears with similar names normally capitalized.)

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4 Responses to “3 More Answers to Questions About Capitalization”

  • Amber Polo

    Interesting rule on dog breeds. My proofreader agrees. But for my dog-shifting fantasy novel I prefer to follow American Kennel Club capitalization rules. 😉

  • Rothwoman

    What does one do with abbreviations for dog breeds? Yorkshire terriers: Yorkies or yorkies? West Highland terriers: Westies or westies? (I tried to post this earlier but it disappeared.)

  • Mark Nichol

    Rothwoman:

    Retain the capitalization.

  • Oliver Lawrence

    You would still capitalize “Customer” if it were a defined term in a contract.

    Similarly, “Article” is capitalized in an articles of association document if you are referring to an article in the same text, to differentiate from an article in a separate document (such as a law).

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