Capitalization: An Overused Way to Show Respect

Many businesses embrace the AP Stylebook as their writing guide, but the relationship often breaks down over capitalization. AP is firmly minimalist, where corporate America believes you can’t have enough of a good uppercase thing.

Years ago, I worked for a mortgage company whose voluminous customer correspondence capped every word related to the business, such as Mortgage, Deed, Escrow, and many others. The letters looked downright biblical.

Many companies deify their buildings, such as Headquarters, the Home Office, and the Midwest Branch. But where does that leave the warehouse?

And when it comes to people, it’s Caps Gone Wild. AP says no caps on job titles used without a name or following a name (John Smith, manager of operations), including the president of the United States.

But business writers cap them all: the President, the Board of Directors, the Rapid Response Team, the Christmas Party Committee.

When forced to reason why, they usually come up with, “To show respect.”

Well, no, no it doesn’t. Instead, it creates a silly slippery slope that leaves anybody in lowercase feeling slighted or undervalued.

Rampant capitalization can actually sabotage your message. Readers think capped words have more importance because you drew attention to them, so it’s easy to emphasize the wrong things.

For example, the target audience may fail to feel the love from this heartfelt statement you might find in a corporate brochure or website copy:

The customer is the primary focus of every Teammate in our Company.

What comes through to me is a self-centered organization paying lip service to customer service.

(On a side note, yes, companies will devise capitalized euphemisms for their workers because “employee” has somehow become a four-letter word. They think it’s a way to show respect. But that’s another post.)

Here are other examples:

Our Goal for our Products and Services is total customer satisfaction.

The Board of Directors at its Annual Meeting took comments from shareholders.

Companies who rely on caps to pump themselves up become the boorish windbag everybody avoids at the party. In addition, they convey grammatical ineptitude.

So what do you do? AP and common sense generally dictate lowercase on all words except:

  • proper names and places
  • trademarked product names
  • job titles immediately preceding a person’s name (Director of Marketing Mary Jones, President Thomas Jefferson)

It requires no guesswork, it’s easy to remember, and your Shift keys will thank you for the much-needed rest.


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2 thoughts on “Capitalization: An Overused Way to Show Respect

  1. Mitch Mirkin July 1, 2015 at 11:50 am Reply

    Brilliant, funny, and very useful post. And very timely for me, also, as I am dealing with this precise issue in my workplace. Thank you!


    • karenwormald July 1, 2015 at 12:12 pm Reply

      Welcome, Mitch! Even though I wrote this post back in 2013, just a few weeks ago I wrestled again with a client dead-set on capitalizing every general job title. I ended up doing it because the client wouldn’t listen to reason, and I always try to keep the client happy.

      The purpose was to elevate employees, to show esteem. Personally, I think employees couldn’t care less if you cap them if you otherwise provide a fair and caring work environment.

      The result for the publication was to subtly put down everyone else also mentioned who isn’t an employee; namely, customers.

      It amazes me how organizations consistently fail to see the self-sabotage in capitalizing only themselves while they claim that customer service and satisfaction are their highest priorities, but it’s done all the time.


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