At standard body text sizes, capital letters—or simply
That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use caps. But use them judiciously. Caps are suitable for headings shorter than one line (e.g.,
DON’T CAPITALIZE WHOLE PARAGRAPHS. THIS HABIT IS ENDEMIC TO LAWYERS, BUT IT’S ESPECIALLY COMMON IN CONTRACTS. MANY LAWYERS SEEM TO THINK THAT CAPITALIZATION COMMUNICATES AUTHORITY AND IMPORTANCE.
All-caps paragraphs are an example of self-defeating typography. If you need readers to pay attention to an important part of your document, the last thing you want is for them to skim over it. But that’s what inevitably happens with all-caps paragraphs because they’re so hard to read.
There are two ways to put caps in a document. The popular method is to engage the caps-lock key at the left edge of the keyboard and type away. That works, but it makes capitalization a permanent feature of your text.
The preferred method is to apply all-caps formatting to normally typed text. That way, you can toggle capitalization on and off without retyping the text itself.
|Mac OS Word
|control + shift + a
|command + shift + a
|control + k (converts case)
It can be useful to capitalize specially defined terms to distinguish them from their generic counterparts. But capitalize only the first letter. Don’t set the whole word in caps, or worse, bold caps. Likewise, you can refer to party Omicron Motor Company as Omicron—you don’t need to write its name OMICRON or OMICRON. When you set a word like OMICRON in caps, you’re putting a visual speed bump in every sentence that mentions OMICRON. As the habit multiplies, soon you’re talking about how OMICRON and SIGMA conspired to make AIRBAGS that injured the PLAINTIFF and the rest of the CLASS. At that point, you haven’t made your DOCUMENT easier to READ. You’ve only MADE it more ANNOYING.
Sometimes caps are required by law—for instance, California requires that defined terms in discovery requests be set in all caps (e.g., Cal. Civ. Proc. Code § 2030.060(e)). And sometimes caps are prohibited by law—for instance, New York court rules say that
“[e]xceptin headings, words shall not be in bold type or type consisting of all capital letters.” (22 N.Y.C.R.R. 500.1(j)).
Excessive capitalization is a scourge of many contracts. More on that, there.
If your all-caps text contains a citation with a small-letter subdivision, don’t capitalize the subdivision letter—it may render the citation ambiguous or incorrect.
“Whyreject underlining but not caps? Aren’t they both typewriter habits?” No. Caps are the original alphabetic characters. They are part of the oldest traditions of our written language. Underlining cannot claim a similar pedigree. Caps in English descend directly from the Latin alphabet. (That’s why basic, unstyled fonts are called roman.) Through the early Middle Ages, scribes in Europe adapted the Latin alphabet into smaller, more casual forms, called minuscules. In the 700s, Charlemagne started a project to create a standardized script across his empire. That script, Carolingian minuscule, spread through Europe and popularized the combination of uppercase and lowercase letters that’s been a feature of printed European languages since then.
To those lawyers who type emails in all caps: enough already. You don’t have to shout. We can hear you just fine.