Sunday, September 27, 2009

Poll: Do you use "pride capitals"?

If you're in business, you probably use capital letters more than grammar geeks recommend.

I confess. I was guilty of overcapitalizing titles until Prof. Albert Craig, my Ph.D. thesis advisor, drummed the rules into me. I learned to write "Goto Fumio, home minister" instead of "Goto Fumio, Home Minister." Titles should be capitalized only when they directly precede the titleholder's name, as in "Home Minister Goto Fumio." Goto Fumio, by the way, was the focus of my Ph.D. dissertation.

For a quick overview of the rules, read--or listen to--the Grammar Girl blog's "When Should You Capitalize Words?" The blog post, written by Rob Reinalda, who goes by word_czar on Twitter, discusses "pride capitals" to explain why "One mistake business writers often make is capitalizing words simply for emphasis or to augment their importance." You're using pride capitals, if your firm's biographies refer to "Jane Smith, President and Chief Investment Officer" instead of "Jane Smith, president and chief investment officer."

Please take the poll in the right-hand column of this blog and feel free to leave comments below. Thank you!

____________________
Susan B. Weiner, CFA
Check out my website at www.InvestmentWriting.com or sign up for my free monthly e-newsletter.
Copyright 2009 by Susan B. Weiner All rights reserved

16 comments:

  1. When I was teaching MBAs, I was amazed at the number of incorrect capitalizations in the average report or slide deck. Some were of the type you write about here.

    Others came from them reading company press releases and analyst reports. In both, you often see sector descriptions ("the Technology sector") and similar things capitalized repeatedly when they shouldn't be.

    I think the notion of importance that you cite is key. It's almost as if they said to themselves, "This is a big concept, I'd better capitalize it." I came to term these "random capitalizations." Of course, they weren't entirely random, fitting into some patterns, but my point to them was that they had no basis in any rules of style.

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  2. Tom,

    I'm glad to hear you upheld the standards when you taught MBAs. I also see sector names capitalized in my clients' work.

    My approach with clients is to tell them what the rules are, and then let them decide whether to break the rules. If they're going to break the rules, they should be consistent about it. So, the Technology sector would always be capitalized.

    Thanks for your comment!

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  3. Dean,

    HA HA! Thanks for making me laugh.

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  4. Susan, I voted "no, never" in your poll.

    But, I need to confess. This past Saturday, 33 friends and I took pre-flight training (to serve as guardians to 100 WWII Veterans on an Honor Flight 10/3). After shaking hands, together reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, watching a prior Honor Flight on DVD, and wiping many tears together, I now capitalize the word Veteran.

    Come to think of it, whenever I write a friend something about their parents (many of the clients we serve are in their 80's and 90's), I also capitalize Dad and Mom.

    Other than Veteran, Dad, or Mom, I don't think I use pride capitals, but I bet I do.

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  5. Jonathan,

    Sounds like quite an event! I understand why you capitalize those words.

    I confess to being flexible on pride capitals, depending on the context. But once I decide to capitalize something, I try to be consistent in capitalizing it in the same context.

    Thanks for your comment!

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  6. My first job was writing contracts at an insurance company. The rule was that any term defined in the contract needed to be capitalized. Naturally that spilled over into non-contractual writing and to this day it's easy to identify an insurance company veteran by the overuse of capitals.
    Clearly firms and writers need style manuals, and there are enough good ones already.

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  7. Paul, that's an interesting point about the spillover from legal writing to other arenas.

    Thank you!

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  8. Funny, I thought that WHENEVER you refer to the president of the US, you capitalize it ... not what appeared in the link you offered. I was surprised to see that there's a difference in how you handle the capitalization if the title is before or after the name. Glad you brought this topic up, as there are many who go capital-crazy! Thanks!

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  9. Dave,

    Going capital-crazy isn't much of a sin compared to other violations of standard usage, such as their vs. their.

    Thanks for your comment!

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  10. Susan,
    Thanks for citing my podcast script for @GrammarGirl. The term "pride capitals" was submitted by one of her devotees.
    Your readers might also enjoy my essay on the word "between," which is on www.ragan.com.
    Thanks again. Rob

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  11. Rob,

    That's one of my all-time favorite scripts, so I should be thanking you. I'm looking forward to more word wisdom from you.

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  12. Like Tom (the first commenter), I've long labeled unjustified capitalization as "random capitalization."

    I'm less prone to judge it, though. In my view, every organization and every professional context may adopt its own style rules that are appopriate for it. I don't really see a strong need for uniformity.

    In journlalism style - represented by the AP Stylebook (and similar guides) and perhaps Strunk & White - capitlizing is de-emphasized, along the lines Susan indicated in her post.

    Some freelancers I edit submit copy that's full of random capitals - or "pride capitals," to use Susan's equally (or still more) apt label. I assume that's because those freelancers also do a fair bit of business writing (a necessity if they're supporting themselves as writers and don't have a wealthy spouse), and in-house PR folks tend to love capital letters.

    But perhaps another reason they do it is to have some innocuous errors in their copy so the editor will have something to "correct." I remember being shocked the first time I heard a long-time freelancer explain this common practice to me, of deliberately submitting copy with (minor) errors in it. So I checked with a few other full-time freelancers and learned that yes, most do it. The explanation is that editors seem to hold it against freelancers when their copy is "too perfect," leaving the editor no chance to practice her editing skills on it.

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  13. Jon,
    I never heard that freelancer's explanation before. Interesting story.
    Thank you!

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  14. My mother, a copyeditor, taught me about capitalization. I constantly see the overuse of upper case in writing that I'm asked to check, and in explaining why I've struck out the capitals, I say that we're not writing German.

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  15. Adam,

    I'm glad to see you're applying the lessons you learned from your mother the copy editor. We are NOT writing German.

    Thanks for your comment!

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