At standard body text sizes, capital letters—or simply
That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use caps. But use them judiciously. Caps are suitable for headings shorter than one line (e.g.,
DON’T CAPITALIZE WHOLE PARAGRAPHS. THIS HABIT ORIGINATED WITH LAWYERS AND HAS INFECTED SOCIETY AT LARGE. MANY WRITERS SEEM TO THINK THAT CAPITALIZATION COMMUNICATES AUTHORITY AND IMPORTANCE.
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 hard to read.
To emphasize a paragraph, you have better options. Use rules and borders. Add a heading that labels it Important. Run it in a larger point size. But don’t capitalize it.
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.
Nicer professional fonts include alternate figures and punctuation that are designed to align correctly with caps. These alternates are available as OpenType features.
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]hethera term is ‘conspicuous’or not is a decision for the court.” (UCC § 1-201(b)(10).) Furthermore, the US Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has written that “[l]awyerswho think their caps lock keys are instant ‘makeconspicuous’ 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. “Whyreject underlining 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 type emails in all caps: enough already. You don’t have to shout. We can hear you just fine.