At body text sizes, capital letters—or simply
That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use caps. Just use them judiciously. Caps are suitable for headings shorter than one line (e.g., “
BUT DON’T CAPITALIZE WHOLE PARAGRAPHS. THIS HABIT ORIGINATED WITH LAWYERS AND HAS INFECTED SOCIETY AT LARGE. THUS, MANY WRITERS STILL BELIEVE THAT CAPITALIZATION COMMUNICATES AUTHORITY AND IMPORTANCE. “HEY, LOOK HERE, I’VE GOT SOMETHING IMPORTANT TO SAY! I DEMAND THAT YOU PAY ATTENTION!” BUT A PARAGRAPH SET IN ALL CAPS IS VERY HARD TO READ. AND IT’S EVEN HARDER TO READ IF IT’S BOLD. AS THE PARAGRAPH WEARS ON, READERS FATIGUE. INTEREST WANES. HOW ABOUT YOU? DO YOU ENJOY READING THIS? I DOUBT IT. BUT I REGULARLY SEE CAPITALIZED PARAGRAPHS THAT ARE MUCH LONGER THAN THIS. DO YOUR READERS A FAVOR. STOP CAPITALIZING WHOLE PARAGRAPHS.
All-caps paragraphs are an example of self-defeating typography. If you need readers to pay attention to an important part of your document, the last thing you want is for them to skim over it. But that’s what inevitably happens with all-caps paragraphs, because they’re so difficult to read.
There are two ways to put caps in a document. The popular method is to engage the caps-lock key at the left edge of the keyboard and type away. That works, but it makes capitalization a permanent feature of your text.
The preferred method is to apply all-caps formatting to normally typed text. That way, you can toggle capitalization on and off without retyping the text itself. But this only changes the case—for best results, you’ll also want to add letterspacing, and turn on kerning.
Caps are often found in legal contracts, like warranties and EULAs, because many lawyers believe that caps are required by contract laws that call for “conspicuous” text. Oh really? The Uniform Commercial Code defines “conspicuous” as “written, displayed, or presented [so] that a reasonable person against which it is to operate ought to have noticed it,” but notes that “[w]hether a term is ‘conspicuous’ or not is a decision for the court.” (UCC § 1-201(b)(10).) Furthermore, one prominent court, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, has written that “[l]awyers who think their caps lock keys are instant ‘make conspicuous’ buttons are deluded. In determining whether a term is conspicuous, we look at more than formatting.” (
In re Bassett, 285 F.3d 882, 886 (9th Cir. 2002).) My compliments to those who take this suggestion seriously. “Why rejectunderlining but not caps? Aren’t they both typewriter habits?” No. Caps are the original alphabetic characters. They are part of the oldest traditions of our written language. Underlining cannot claim a similar pedigree. Caps in English descend directly from the Latin alphabet. (That’s why basic, unstyled fonts are called roman.) Through the early Middle Ages, scribes in Europe adapted the Latin alphabet into smaller, more casual forms, called minuscules. In the 700s, Charlemagne started a project to create a standardized script across his empire. That script, Carolingian minuscule, spread through Europe and popularized the combination of uppercase and lowercase letters that’s been a feature of printed European languages since then.
To those holdouts who are still typing e-mails in all caps: enough already. You don’t have to shout. We can hear you just fine.