Writing for Business

Aug 4 2013   6:02PM GMT

Why you don’t want to just make your own decisions about what words to capitalize

Ivy Wigmore Ivy Wigmore Profile: Ivy Wigmore

Which vision statement is better?

interrobang a. Our Vision for the future includes serving our Customers to the best of our ability, while maintaining our focus on Sustainability, Integrity and Openness in all our practices.b. Our vision for the future includes serving our customers to the best of our ability, while maintaining our focus on sustainability, integrity and openness in all our practices.

Answer: b.


Here’s the short explanation for why you should adhere to standard capitalization: If you capitalize words based on what you consider important, most of your readers will not take you seriously. That’s a very real problem — you’re trying to promote those things that are dear to you, but the way you’re trying to do that is making people dismiss what you say.

You value openness, integrity. You’re committed to sustainability. You can assume that your audience understands the importance of those things, so there’s no need to capitalize the words. A vision statement should inspire — you want to get people on board, not alienate them.

Martin Luther King’s “I have a Dream” speech still stands as one of the most powerful and eloquent vision statements in history.

Here’s an excerpt:

Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to open the doors of opportunity to all of God’s children. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood.

Dr. King could have arbitrarily capitalized, for example, “Racial Justice” and “Brotherhood” but it’s safe to assume he didn’t. Does the reader understand that he considered racial justice and brotherhood important? No one could fail to grasp it. Do we take Dr. King and his vision seriously? Absolutely. Would we take his words as seriously if they were arbitrarily capitalized? I know I wouldn’t.

Not sure of what to capitalize (and what not to)? Here’s a quick guide to capitalization.

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