As a writer, editor and proofreader, I’ve had to work with a pool of writers for a fitness magazine, and one of the things I’ve noticed amongst the writers is a careless, indiscriminate use of casing (capping or non-capping of words).
Many things can make your writing appear amateurish, or not professional level, and this article will focus on just one of those elements because this element can be fixed so easily! It’s that of initial capping common nouns.
Trust me on this: It looks so doggone amateurish. For the magazine I edit, I have given guidelines to the writers about when to cap and when not to cap, yet these rules get ignored time and time again.
We learn about casing or capping, and the difference between proper and improper (common) nouns, all throughout grade school.
So why the casing rules (which I make crystal clear with great examples) are so difficult for college-degreed adult writers to follow is a mind-blowing mystery.
Make your writing more professional by sticking to these guidelines to differentiate between a common and proper noun:
#1. Before capping a word, ask yourself, “Is this a formal name?” “Is this a name of a business, brand, institution of sorts like a school or bank, pet’s name, person’s name, etc.?” If the answer is no, it’s a common noun; do not cap it.
#2. Before capping a word, ask yourself, “Why am I capping this word? Is it to show emphasis? What do the editor’s writers’ guidelines say about emphasizing a word? Oh, it says for emphasis, make bold or italic! Or all caps!” Follow writers’ guidelines and you’ll never go wrong.
Are you capping the word because it starts a sentence? Of course, that’s one of the rules of English: Cap the first word of any sentence.
For the magazine I edit, I’ve repeatedly instructed to cap only the first word of the article title and any subheaders. Strangely, the writers continue sending in articles ignoring this guideline, even though I’ve sent many examples of titles and headlines showing only the first word being capped. Go figure.
#3. Are you capping words that make up an acronym? If the component words are formal names, they get capped.
An example is the AHA, the American Heart Association. Another example is ACE: the American Council on Exercise. And then there is the IOC: International Olympic Committee. These are proper names of institutions or organizations. KFC is another example, being the name of a restaurant chain: Kentucky Fried Chicken.
Since common nouns do not get capped, why would they suddenly achieve formal status just because they’re part of an acronym? I can’t begin to tell you how many times I’ve seen the components of BMI capped: body mass index. This looks so wrong: A person’s Body Mass Index should be lower than 25.
If writing of just the body, you wouldn’t cap “body,” would you? You wouldn’t cap “mass” or “index” if they stood alone in a sentence, would you? So why cap them just because they all run together? Since when are the words, body, mass and index proper nouns?
All the time I see the following common nouns capped in the middle of a sentence: attention, consumption, exercise, hyperactivity, high, training, interval, disorder, intensity.
Why on earth would these words gain formal status simply because they comprise the following acronyms: ADHD, EPOC and HIIT? The term “attention deficit hyperactivity disorder” is a common noun!
These words, along with all the other words that make up informal acronyms, are common nouns that do not get capped! Capping common nouns does nothing to make a writer look professional.
Here’s another big folly: capping syndrome, disease and vitamin. Why should “syndrome” be capped in Down syndrome? The “Down” of course gets capped because the disorder is named after a person, Dr. John Langdon Down. But “syndrome”? Come ON.
This error occurs in other syndrome-name conditions such as Angelman syndrome and Prader-Willi syndrome. “Syndrome” isn’t a proper noun just because the first name of the condition is named after a doctor. Same with “disease.” Why does “disease” get capped after Alzheimer’s or Huntington’s?
A single letter always gets capped, such as go from point A to point B. Capping “Point” is fine because it gives a visual impact when the reader imagines Point A to Point B. The logic of this is obvious.
HOWEVER, please, it looks so unprofessional to cap “vitamin” when you write about vitamin A, vitamin B and vitamin C!
I’m a stickler because the designer of the magazine I edit wants only the first word of titles and subtitles capped, so when all the words come in capped, I must uncap them all; this is time-consuming.
Plus, to maintain consistency and a professional look to the article, I require the rules of capping to be followed throughout the body text. Uncapping dozens and dozens of words is very time consuming.
If I let this rule go, then some articles will have ridiculous capping of common nouns throughout, while others will not. Inconsistency will give the magazine an unprofessional look.
To instantly upgrade your writing, follow the simple rules of capping only proper nouns or formal names, and lower casing common nouns. When in doubt, ask yourself the three questions posed in this article.