The 10 Commandments of Capitalization in Business Writing
When you make a grammar mistake, it’s more than just a fleeting embarrassment. It can cause your message to be dismissed and your professional reputation to suffer. That’s not a risk you can afford to take!
Rules on capitalization vary depending on your style manual and company rules. Check your company style guide to be sure your rules are the same.
1. Capitalize proper nouns
- Names of individual people, organizations and buildings
- Names of geographic locations such as countries, cities and states
- Names of historic events, periods and documents
- Names of government bodies or agencies
2. Capitalize most calendar events
- Do capitalize days of the week, months of the year and holidays
- Do not capitalize the seasons (e.g., spring, fall)
- Boston, the university hub of the Northeast, is about 200 miles northeast of New York
4. Capitalize people’s titles only when they appear before the name
- President and CEO Jill Marquez, but Jill Marquez is president and CEO
- The President of the United States is an exception to this rule
- Your company’s practice may vary
5. Capitalize all initials and acronyms, even if the name they stand for is not capitalized
- Write “information technology” lowercase but “IT” in all caps; “public relations” lowercase but “PR” all caps.
6. Capitalize most names related to scholastic endeavors
- Capitalize degrees: MA, PhD (check your style manual on use of periods)
- Capitalize names of specific courses: He registered for Organic Chemistry with Professor Ing
- Do not capitalize general courses of study: He couldn’t decide between physics and chemistry
7. Capitalize names of specific departments within a company, but not general department names
- Anat is head of the Marketing department
- She works in marketing
8. Names of family relationships are sometimes capitalized
- Capitalize relationship names when they are used in place of a specific person’s name or
come before a proper name: I asked Dad if I could borrow the car keys, but Uncle Jim gave me his
- Do not capitalize relationship names that do not name a specific person: “Immediate family” refers to parents, siblings and children but not to uncles and aunts, cousins or grandparents
9. Capitalize important words of titles
- Titles of works of art use initial capitals; this includes books, journals, articles, newspapers and magazines, poems, songs, plays, TV and radio shows and many more
- “Important words” are not necessarily long words, but all nouns, verbs, pronouns, adjectives and adverbs are. Prepositions and conjunctions are not capitalized unless they begin the title: To Have and Have Not. Mother Is Always Right.
10. When in doubt, check your company style guide!
It’s not just the grammar snobs—when you make a grammar error, people may not mention it to you, but they definitely notice! And grammar errors affect more than just you; they can even damage people’s opinions of your organization’s professionalism. That’s why it’s essential you make sure that everything you write is mistake-proof and error-free!