Proofers Blog

Proofreading and Editing tips…

28 Apr

Capitals

If in doubt about whether to use a capital letter for something, the answer is usually ‘don’t’! Particularly in academic writing, where the subject matter seems important and the conclusions consequential, many of us have a tendency to emphasise the people, institutions, materials or subject matter with capital letters and, more often than not, we shouldn’t.

There are clear circumstances in which capitals should be used. We’ve all learned about capitalising proper names like ‘London’, ‘Edinburgh’, ‘James West’ or ‘Lilian Tomkin’ and institutions are capitalised when their proper names are used: the ‘World Health Organization’ or the ‘Adam Smith Institute’ but, unless you are using a proper name for something then it is important not to capitalise. In the same way that you wouldn’t capitalise ‘pig’ or ‘horse’ (unless they were names: ‘a pig called Pig’ or ‘a horse called Horse’), you wouldn’t capitalise ‘carbon dioxide’, ‘government’ or ‘lieutenant’ (expect if one of the terms was part of a name, eg Lieutenant Jim Thompson).

It’s also important to remember that small, insignificant words in a title should not be capitalised even if all the other words are. So, in a sub-title like ‘Findings from the Second Study Group’, don’t be tempted into giving ‘from’ and ‘the’ a capital letter.

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