You would think that getting capital letters right would be easy, right? Alas not. Online copy is littered with capitalisation gaffes, whether it’s mentioning someone’s job title or referring to a particular part of a country. The short story is that lot of people don’t really know how to use them. This short guide will put that right.
Less is more
If in doubt, don’t capitalise. Whether you’re writing a blog, a landing page, a social media post or an email, the less capital letters you use, the better your copy will be.
For one, it’s easier to read – capitalised words midway through a sentence, for example, can disrupt the flow of reading. Two, it means you’re less likely to introduce an unnecessary capitalised word. And three, it reflects the more conversational, free-flowing style of online writing that very much leans towards lowercase words.
While you should use capital letters sparingly, there are, as this blog demonstrates, instances where they should be used.
The rules for this are quite simple. Use capital letters:
- At the start of a sentence
- For proper nouns (i.e. the actual official name of something: Melt Digital, the Guardian, the Association of British Travel Agents, and so on)
And don’t use them almost anywhere else.
If you have to ask yourself, ‘should I use a capital?’, or if you’re asked, ‘why would you use a capital?’ and you can’t explain why – then you probably shouldn’t use one.
As a general rule, people, places and companies take capital letters. Other terms do not. For example, miscellaneous phrases like ‘strategy formation’, ‘content’, ‘search engine’, ‘skiing holiday’ and ‘content marketing agency’, none of these take a capital – well, in most circumstances that is.
Another rule goes as follows: do not use capital letters because you think something is important or because you’ve seen someone use it elsewhere (likely the product of a less careful writer).
This has no technical merit behind it. And it creates inconsistency, which is the enemy of good writing.
Sentence case versus title case
Always use sentence case for headings – never title case. That means only capitalising the first letter of the first word – do not capitalise anything after that.
Well, unless, of course, it’s a proper noun (you can see how people can easily get into trouble with capital letters).
Examples (remember that these are headings):
- Our approach ✅
- Our Approach ❌
- The Melt strategy ✅
- The Melt Strategy ❌
Why this rule? Using title case – which is capitalising every word – invites inconsistencies and is harder to read.
A final word
So there you have it. A very short guide on how to use capital letters. While there’s honestly a lot more that can be said about capital letters – like whether to capitalise a word after a colon in a heading (some say yes, some say no) – you won’t go far wrong with the absolute basics covered above.
If after all that you’re still finding yourself unsure about whether you should capitalise a word, just ask yourself the following: ‘If I capitalise this word here, I’ll have to capitalise it everywhere else it appears in my content. Does it work or does it look wrong?’
We promise that nearly every time you answer that question, you’ll say ‘wrong’.
This is the first in a long series of articles offering you expert advice on how to write better and more effective content. We have to give a big shout-out to Melt’s former head of content, Rich Kimber. His regular in-house writing tips serve as the inspiration and foundation behind this entire series.
We’re passionate about content at Melt Digital and how words are so fundamental to achieving success online. For more on what we can do – from inspirational blogs that get your business noticed to optimised landing pages that get people to convert – drop us a line.