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September 21, 2007



Hi Dan, great post! It got me thinking about capitalization in titles. For instances the last few years I've been second guessing myself when I title an article. What's the deal? Are all the words supposed to be capitalized now or just the nouns? Can you give us all a grade school refresher course in writing headlines, titles, etc? Thank you. -Kirk

Norm Leigh

You're right, of course. Corporations are the primary purveyors of runaway capitalization. As a professional writer who crafts copy for businesses, I write text using the proper rules of capitalization, only to have someone higher up the food chain put titles, department names, etc. into upper case because they wrongly believe that it's denigrating to leave them lowercase. I also teach writing at the university level. I advise my students that if they can't state a specific reason for capitalizing (as spelled out in a host of style books, including the AP style manual), then they should not use the uppercase letter. Keep fighting the good fight!

Sue Horner

Here, here! Big companies are the worst at Randomly Capitalizing words that, as you say, they deem Important. When given something to edit that is full of such Important Words, I quietly remove the capital letters and go about my business. It's always useful if you can point to a style guide or policy, though.


On the issue of capitalization of titles, I urge you to consider this. The correct and consistent AP-style capitalization of job titles is one of the single most troublesome style guidelines in public relations. With one of the objectives of public relations being to manage communications between an organization and its publics to promote a favorable relationship between the two, it’s instinctive and logical that we would capitalize job titles in the same way that we would confer prestige and status to people, organizations and events in other ways to position them in the best light. And in fact, the Chicago Manual of Style allows for exactly this capitalization exception for job titles in these cases.

For this reason, if I’m writing a document for or targeting a document for reproduction in the media, I follow AP style and only capitalize a formal title used directly before a name, because the objective is to simulate the style of a newspaper or magazine to the fullest extent possible to encourage that publication to run as much of the text in its original full form as possible. But, for corporate communications and internal communications – including Web sites, brochures, executive bios, and newsletters, which are not primarily designed with the intention to have the content replicated in the media – I contend it is acceptable to capitalize these titles both before and after names.

Because public relations evolved from the field of journalism, PR professionals have reflexively followed AP style in their writing. However, as public relations has expanded from a media relations discipline into one that includes such nonjournalistic areas as brand marketing and corporate communications, some AP style rules have become inadequate to address the unique needs of public relations writing, and it becomes necessary to know when to follow, bend, and break some of the rules. In the case of the capitalization of titles in public relations and business communications, bending the rule to make a reasonable, consistent choice is more important than adhering to it just because it is stated in the AP Stylebook.

Jeanette Brown

A huge THANK YOU for this post. As a former copy editor, this has been the single most vexing aspect of my move to public relations. I love that you included the point that my desire to conform to well established rules of punctuation is not, in fact, a show of irreverance toward the City or State.


Walsh did clarify that he was being ironic in such instances, and therefore is capitalizing in order to had a touch of humor.

Capitalization needn't always be Very Serious Business.


thank you for clearing this up! i'd like to send this to the windbag "Professionals" who bare their fangs every time i drop their cherished initial caps.

your comment (sept. 25 2007) about sometimes bending the rules by using initial caps in titles in corporate communications helps me understand that sometimes it's wisest to just go with that flow or lose one's mind. nevertheless it points to a corporate, money-worshipping, above-the-rules mindset that i cannot and will not ever respect.

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