small capsUse real small caps; avoid fakes

Small caps are short cap­i­tal let­ters de­signed to blend with low­er­case text. They’re usu­ally slightly taller than low­er­case let­ters. (Small caps are used in this book to de­note cross-ref­er­ences.)

I’m a big fan of small caps. They look great and they’re very use­ful as an al­ter­na­tive to bold or italic or all caps.

But most peo­ple have never seen real small caps. They’ve only seen the er­satz small caps that word proces­sors and web browsers gen­er­ate when small-cap for­mat­ting is used.

Witness Protectionfake
Witness Protectionreal
Trixie Argon, Ways to Be Wicked, in
Conjuring for Beginners, at 137–39
(London, Quid Pro Books, 2004).
Trixie Argon, Ways to Be Wicked, in
Conjuring for Beginners, at 137–39
(London, Quid Pro Books, 2004).

Small-cap for­mat­ting works by scal­ing down reg­u­lar caps. But com­pared to the other char­ac­ters in the font, the fake small caps that re­sult are too tall, and their ver­ti­cal strokes are too light. The color and height of real small caps have been cal­i­brated to blend well with the nor­mal up­per­case and low­er­case letters.

There­fore, two rules for small caps:

  1. Don’t click on the small-cap for­mat­ting box in your word proces­sor. Ever. This op­tion does not pro­duce small caps. It pro­duces in­fe­rior coun­ter­feits. (Even when you’re us­ing a font with real small caps.)

  2. The rules for all caps also ap­ply to small caps: use small caps spar­ingly, add let­terspac­ing, and turn on kern­ing.

Now for the bad news. If you want real small caps, you’ll have to buy them—they’re not in­cluded with Times New Ro­man or any other sys­tem font.

Usu­ally, small caps come in their own font file that shows up sep­a­rately in the font menu. When you want small caps, you for­mat the text with the small-cap font. You can also use para­graph and char­ac­ter styles to ap­ply small caps and elim­i­nate most of the te­dium of us­ing a sep­a­rate font.

by the way
  • With small caps, it’s up to you whether to use reg­u­lar cap­i­tal let­ters at the be­gin­ning of cap­i­tal­ized words. For in­stance, a footer could read First Amended Com­plaint or first amended com­plaint. I pre­fer the latter.

  • Even if you get a small-cap font, the small-cap for­mat­ting box will still give you fake small caps. To avoid con­fu­sion, just for­get the for­mat­ting box exists.

  • Many new fonts are sold in the Open­Type for­mat in­stead of the older True­Type for­mat. Font de­sign­ers pre­fer Open­Type be­cause it al­lows small caps to be built into the main font as an open­type fea­ture. Un­for­tu­nately, nei­ther Word nor Word­Per­fect sup­ports small caps de­liv­ered this way. So most law­yers will be stuck with the tra­di­tional tech­nique of us­ing a sep­a­rate small-cap font. If you buy a pro­fes­sional font fam­ily (like the ones shown in font rec­om­men­da­tions), be sure to find out if you can get the small caps in a sep­a­rate font file.

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