Avoid Gratuitous Capitalization
As an editor, I devote much of my time and energy to helping a writer bring out the best in his or her prose, but a lot of effort also goes into minor but nagging errors — unnecessary capitalization among them.
Long after the Roman alphabet was developed, only one form existed: the capital form. Along the way, a parallel form, known as lowercase developed. (The term lowercase derives from the fact that stamps for printing letters using this style were kept in rows of cases located below those housing the uppercase, or capital, letters.) Now, capital letters are used in a limited number of functions: primarily, for the first letter of the first word in a sentence or of a proper noun, and for denoting acronyms and initialisms.
Unfortunately, many amateur writers, and a number of professionals, clutter their writing with gratuitous capitalization because of a misunderstanding of — or a disregard for — orthographic conventions. For example, many people do not realize that when the name of an entity such as an organization is reduced to one word, that word is generally treated without initial capitalization, as in “the association” (not “the Association”) as shorthand for “the American Automobile Association.”
One complication is something that can be blamed on institutional pride, as when a university’s literature describes how “the University’s student-life environment is very rich” or on corporate branding efforts, as in “the Company is here to serve your needs.” Such gratuitous capitalization is entrenched in traditional legal writing (for example, “the Plaintiff’s claim is upheld”), but both in that context and in general prose it is distracting.
Whenever you’re tempted to capitalize a word, specific to your field of interest or endeavor, that is not a proper noun, check its treatment in the lay literature — books, nonscholarly periodicals, newspapers, and websites. Often, you’ll find that the word is treated generically, and I hope that you’ll realize that unless the word is strictly a proper noun, there’s no justification for aggrandizing it with an initial capital letter.
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