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The Grammar Factor: avoid overusing initial capitals, write effective emails

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By Mary Morel | June 2016

Avoid overusing initial capitals

avoid overusing initial capitalsMost editors will tell you they hate the overuse and inconsistent use of initial capitals in business documents – they are unnecessary and ugly.

You can avoid overusing initial capitals by thinking of lower case as the norm and using initial capitals only when appropriate. Obviously, we use them at the beginning of sentences and for proper nouns.

Use initial capitals for respect
Although the modern trend is to use fewer initial capitals, we still use some for respect. For example, ‘God’ is capitalised in many religions when the word refers to a supreme being, but not when used as a general term (e.g. the Greeks had many gods). And on a more mundane level, most organisations I’ve worked with write ‘Board’, not ‘board’. (I don’t think ‘board’ needs an initial capital, but some things aren’t worth arguing about!)

Use initial capitals for defined terms
Many organisations use initial capitals for defined terms (e.g. Lender). I see this particularly in legal documents and policies.

I wonder if this use of initial capitals is declining – what do you think?

Use initial capitals for job titles, but not job descriptions

  • Capitalise a job title when it comes before a person’s name (Chief Financial Officer Jane Smith said…).
  • Use lower case for job descriptions that come after a person’s name (Jane Smith, chief financial officer, said…).
  • Use lower case for general job descriptions that aren’t attached to names (The directors and the chief financial officer met…).

Should you use initial capitals for ‘government’?
I was taught to use a capital G for ‘Government’ if I was referring a specific government (The Federal Government announced…), and to use lower case when referring to governments in general (The state and local governments don’t agree about amalgamation.)

I wonder if this changing too. I notice that The Sydney Morning Herald uses lower case for specific governments (NSW government defends KPMG independence).

Use initial capitals for full names of organisations
We use initial capitals for the full names of organisations (Waverley Council), but lower case when referring to an organisation in a general way (The council held a community meeting to discuss…).

Reader’s questions – quoting a title

Question: How do you quote a title in a sentence?

Answer: Use italics, not quotation marks, for the full titles of Acts of Parliaments, books, newspapers, plays and movies.

Use single quotation marks for the titles of articles, songs and poems.

Pride and Prejudice
‘What if we all got money for nothing’, The Sydney Morning Herald
Roger McGough’s poem, ‘Apostrophe’

My recent blogs and podcasts

My recent blogs

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Recent podcasts
My recent podcasts include conversations with:

  • Julie Shannon about writing executive summaries.
  • Lynne Laracy about writing effective emails.

Public courses in Sydney

If you live in Sydney, you may be interested in the workshops I am facilitating at the Governance Institute of Australia in July:

Interesting stuff about writing

The Geek’s Guide to the Writing Life
This book on writing by Robin Black sounds like a ‘must read’. (If you read it before me, let me know what you think.)

Could we just lose the adverb (already)?
Do you hate adverbs? You are not alone. Read more.

Period. Full stop. Point. Whatever it’s called, it’s going out of style
‘We are at a momentous moment in the history of the full stop,’ said David Crystal, who has written more than 100 books on language. Read more.

Email etiquette
Sometimes struggle with email etiquette? Read these tips.

Disciplined emails: 5 sentences or less
Want people to read your emails? Try writing five sentences max. Read more.

My online email course
I’ve posted several articles about writing emails on Facebook lately. If you know someone who doesn’t enjoy writing work emails, they might find some useful tips in my online course on writing effective emails. They can brush up on grammar the same time! (just $39 a month).

Quote of the month

‘Clarity in business writing is not a luxury.’
Sir Richard Branson, Founder, Virgin Group

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