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Thread: Capitalization for emphasis?

  1. #1
    An Urch Guru Pundit Swami Sage
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    Question Capitalization for emphasis?

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    Hi All (after a long long time),

    Had a small clarification to seek ...

    Occassionally, I see capitalization being used to emphasize parts of a sentence.


    Modeling is an Essential Part of large software projects, and helpful to medium and even small projects as well.
    URL: http://www.omg.org/gettingstarted/what_is_uml.htm

    Here, "Essential Part" has been capitalized just to add emphasis. I used
    to practice this a lot in my school days, and my teacher used to tell me NOT to show my Love for certain Words by capitalizing them.

    Now that I have come across a similar usage in an official document, I wanted to clarify it anyway -- once and for all -- whether it is a good practice.

    Please let me know what you think ...

    Also by the way, as we use the electronic medium more and more for official purposes, I would like to hear any comments/pointers on various different ways of adding emphasis ... and when to use them best ...

    Bold, Italics, Underline, ALLCAPS, Mixed Case, and even other *exotic* forms of ::emphasis::

    Thank you.

  2. #2
    Ankylosaurus Forum Admin Erin's Avatar
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    Wow, I'm flabbergasted. I've never heard of such a thing. In fact, I think it looks terrible to capitalize the first letter of a word to give it emphasis.

    Who told you that? It's just wrong, IMHO. Reminds me of early English (when all nouns were capitalized) or of people who think that some words are somehow "proper," and therefore need to be capitalized. This sort of thing is especially common when people write about their majors in college--Econ, Psychology, etc. (I normally do NOT capitalize those myself.)

    I've got a few more thoughts on how to add emphasis, but I'll have to add them later.
    ☼ Waiting for Godot

  3. #3
    An Urch Guru Pundit Swami Sage
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    Quote Originally Posted by Erin
    It's just wrong, IMHO.
    That says it all Erin. Gee.... I should have never told you that I used to do it myself

    By the way, after I read your reply, I thought of Googling it and here's what it returned ...

    A *LONG* discussion on the very same issue ...


    A guide on technical writing ...


    An excerpt ...

    Capitalization. In technical publishing, there seems to be a running battle between technical writers and technical experts over capitalization. Technical experts like to use initial caps for practically every component and process in a system, while technical writers insist on using caps for proper names only. Also, technical experts (and management) typically use all caps for text they consider important and want readers to attend to.

    As a technical writer, hold the line against capitalization. Capital letters are distracting; all-caps text is uncomfortable to read. Capital letters create a busy text, which sends lots of unnecessary signals. Capital letters are traditionally intended for proper names such as Microsoft, Netscape, Gateway, Dell Computers, WordPerfect, Pagemaker, and so on. The classic guidelines in technical publishing is to capitalize the names of separately orderable products only. However, the politics of organizations bends this guideline considerably. If a company is proud of a certain feature in its new release, for example, EnergyMiser, it will capitalize it, even though you can't order it separately. This is the point at which capitalization is being for emphasis. As a technical writer, you'll want to user caps for proper names and keep the use of caps as an emphasis technique to a minimum.

    Here are some typical guidelines for capitalization:
    • Use the exact capitalization style of messages shown on the computer screen, menu or screen names, field names, hardware labels, and so on.
    • Do not use capital letters for emphasis; use italics or bold instead.
    • ...
    • Do not capitalize the names of the components or processes of a product. Capitalize only the names of products, that is, components that are separately orderable.

      For example, your product may be called WordStuff and of course it must be capitalized according to the style dictated bny the marketing and product planners. However, one WordStuff's features called "spell checker" shouldn't be capitalized -- just about everybody has one of those. However, WordStuff may have a feature called "ZippyFormat" and other called "Image Worker." Even though these are not separately orderable, you will want to use the initial-cap style because of their specialstyle and the ir marketing value. "Image Worker" is obviously something WordStuff, Inc., wants to show off -- therefore, the caps.
    From The "University of Chicago Press" Manual of Style ...


    Now, I plan to read through these articles myself

    Have a great day ahead, Erin!

  4. #4
    Enjoying an ale.
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    Here's my thoughts which reflect common UK usage and my own preferences.

    In general the use of capital letters at the beginning of words you wish to emphasise is not appropriate and only makes you look unprofessional.

    However there are exceptions based mainly on usage, style and as an aid to clarity.

    I would, of course, always use a capital for a proper noun and words derived from it: Scotland, Scottish, Scot. I would also use one for an academic discipline (Geography, Maths) but not as a straight noun (the geography of Europe) or an adjective (geographical).

    Actual titles need capitals (Das Kapital, Her Majesty the Queen). I think we can also have quasi-titles, for instance there is a distinct difference between 'he is a grand, old man' and 'he is a Grand Old Man'. Also consider: 'setting out to be the world's longest thread it became known as The World's Longest Thread'.

    In some cases use of capitals aids clarity. In Apple Discussions I lurk around the .Mac forums and when posting replies will refer to certain features of HomePage with capitals. I do this because I think saying 'create a Photo Album' makes it clear that the reference is to a part of the electronic wizardry rather than just a generic use of the expression.

    The part of your question about electronic media is more difficult. I think the starting point is to recognise that you can't control what the reader sees, especially in terms of font and size, and then to aim for maximum clarity for the reader. After that design helps - I am a firm believer in the principle of layout being more useful than font, size and style changes and that space is essential.

    First off I always try to avoid serif fonts except for large titles as part of design. In terms of sans-serifs I prefer Verdana as being very legible on screen in a range of sizes.

    I use capitals sparingly, not so much for general emphasis but more for warning people. This would normally be single words or short phrases. Where the phrase can stand alone I might consider increasing its visibility by isolation on a single line and centred to make it stand out.

    I dislike italics, especially on screen where they are often very hard to read. I'm not too keen on use of bold face as I find that is often less easy to read than plain text. However use of bold in section headings can help people find their way through a page. I think underlining is probably the best although even that can cause problems by masking descenders of some letters.

    Having said all that it depends on application. In posting here I generally underline words that are vital parts of the OP (eg the pairs in Analogies) and possibly synonomous words I introduce. I would use bold (and italics depending on the needs of the question) to emphasise words that are a vital part of the answer, eg:

    'to use D you would have to say which is known as'

    All that can sometimes lead to a messy looking post but hopefully it helps readers identify the key points.

    Finally I would suggest that whatever style you adopt you try to make sure you use it consistently. And, of course, to remember that emphasis should be used sparingly.


  5. #5
    An Urch Guru Pundit Swami Sage
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    Hi Michael,

    Thanks for your time -- it surely helps.

    I guess it's evident that there can be no single set of best practices covering all media of communication. What is appropiate for a printed scientific journal will not be so for, say, an online news portal.

    Your post has reinforced a couple of my beliefs -- that readability should be the ultimate aim underlying ones choice; and that consistency matters.

    Simply put, pick a style that suits the application best, and then stick to it.

    Afterall "Communication" is the objective. The text and its style are just the means.

    Thanks again.

  6. #6
    Trying to make mom and pop proud
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    Great forum

    Great discussion. I am presently editing a couple of Web sites, where folks are heavily using capitalization for emphasis. I agree that it makes copy very difficult to read and my puny brain wants to decipher whether those words are indeed a proper thing. In one case, the person for whom I am working is a former technical designer, now this is all making sense. I could see some use of you are developing a trademark phrase, such as The Gift of Time--but otherwise these people MUST be stopped at all cost. And while we're at it people, if you are putting 2 spaces after a period in your documents, you are dating yourself back to learning how to type on a typewriter!

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