Years ago, your kindergarten teacher (or your reception teacher, for UK editors) told you to put a capital letter when you started a new sentence and at the beginning of your name.
If only that was it.
In this microlearning, we’ll cover capitalization in:
Launch the microlearning module below to learn more about awkward capitalization conventions and to test your knowledge using our interactive quiz.
Alternatively, read on for a text-only version of the microlearning.
When they cover heading style, most style guides will require either sentence case (You capitalize the title as if it’s a sentence but without a period) or title case (You Capitalize Every Significant Word in the Title).
The rules surrounding title case are reasonably standardized, but there are small variations. Keep an eye out for:
The easiest thing to do is go to a site such as Title Case Converter or Capitalize My Title and select the correct capitalization style from those listed. However, sometimes organizational style guides will have their own quirks, so don’t rely completely on these tools.
Also note that the verbs “is” and “be,” as well as the pronoun “its” should be capitalized in title case. It’s easy to miss these little words, but they are counted as significant.
In the last half century, other styles of capitalization have emerged, most notably CamelCase, kebab-case and snake_case. These are primarily in use in coding, branding, and social media, and allow words to be differentiated without the use of spaces.
If you’re interested in the numerous capitalization conventions around, TechTarget has an interesting video that analyzes the purposes and effects of modern capitalization conventions.
The custom in corporate or online documents seems to be to capitalize the first letter of every bullet point, whether or not it is a full sentence. This keeps things simple!
However, style guides can and do vary, so do check.
If there is no style guide or it doesn’t mention bullet points, then the most important thing is to be consistent. Follow the client’s lead and (if necessary/appropriate) leave a comment that briefly explains the approach you have taken.
Here is an example comment describing the most straightforward approach to capitalizing and punctuating bullet points:
Your style guide doesn’t mention how you would like your bullet points to be formatted, so I have opted to capitalize the first word and leave a period at the end if at least one of the bullet points is a full sentence.I have left no punctuation at the end if all the bullet points in the list are single words/phrases or partial sentences.
Your style guide doesn’t mention how you would like your bullet points to be formatted, so I have opted to capitalize the first word and leave a period at the end if at least one of the bullet points is a full sentence.
I have left no punctuation at the end if all the bullet points in the list are single words/phrases or partial sentences.
Brands capitalize their company and product names to create and maintain their identity. How a brand’s name is capitalized helps to distinguish it from common nouns and emphasizes its significance. Unusual capitalization fosters recognition and recall, helping the brand stand out.
Two examples of unusual capitalization conventions are eBay and iPhone (camel case), Coca-Cola (hyphenated title case) and IKEA (all caps).
You should note that how a company’s brand name should be written in text may differ from how its logo is written. For example, amazon (logo) vs. Amazon (in-text), citibank (logo) vs. Citibank (in-text).
Adding further complications to the pile, style guides may sometimes instruct you to ignore brand conventions and just capitalize the first letter of the brand, as it’s easier to keep consistent.
If in doubt:
Capitalizing job titles and qualifications is usually where a proofreader starts to pull their hair out. It’s one point where a style guide often makes things more confusing, rather than less.
Mentions of job titles and qualifications can fall into three categories:
A non-specific job title or qualification
These should be put into sentence case.
A specific position that is owned by an unspecified person or persons
Most of the time, these should be put into sentence case. However …
This is often where style guides go a bit off-piste and start asking for odd capitalization conventions (e.g., capitalizing certain titles but not others: “the Vice-President asked to speak with the assistant manager”).
In such instances, try your best to keep to the style guide requirements. If in doubt:
A specific position that is part of an official individual or corporate title
Most of the time, these should be put into title case. However …
Often, style guides will stipulate that such titles should only be put into title case when they are attached to someone’s name. So, you might see Head of Marketing Sarah Stevens; Sarah Stevens, head of marketing; our new head of marketing, Sarah Stevens.
Again, if you’re unsure, pick an approach and leave a comment, consult with other editors, or contact the client, as appropriate.
Similarly to job titles and qualifications, whether or not you capitalize a department or team name depends on 1) your style guide, and 2) whether or not you are talking about an actual, specific group.
A non-specific department, team, board etc.
A specific department, team, board etc. (not full name)
These should usually be referred to in sentence case, but this can vary between style guides.
A specific department, team, board etc. (full name)
These should be put into title case.
However, these standard guidelines can be subverted by style guide requirements. So you may see Board members, Lab reports, our Department headquarters, etc.
Note that this approach (treating job titles, department names etc. as proper nouns and capitalizing accordingly) can also be seen in academic documents with things like chapters, examples, equations, tables, and figures. By this logic, it would be “Figure 1 shows that” but “the previous figure shows that.”
However, referencing guides vary in their approach (for example, CMoS always puts table/chapter/figure etc. into sentence case within the text).
As always: follow the style guide, and if in doubt, be consistent.
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