Need someone to proofread your press release?
Better not ask your fourth-grade teacher to take a look. She’d be aghast.
That’s because everybody seems to have forgotten what should be capitalized and, more importantly, what should not. Random capitalization has reached epic proportions.
Here’s an example of a typical passage from a press release:
The XYZ Corp. announced today the hiring of Joe Blow as its new Senior Vice President of Sales.
Blow will oversee Company efforts to establish its Revolutionary new Fiddlesticks Snack Product as an alternative to Potato Chips, according to Frank N. Stein, XYZ’s President and Chairman.
Blow received a Master’s of Chemistry from the University of Dog Patch and previously worked as a Carnival Barker for the Dewey, Cheatum and Howe Circus.
The problem with this passage – and almost every press release that comes down the pike – is the abundance of capitalization. For some reason, everyone seems to think that capitals add gravitas to written material. That's especially true in text messages and many emails, where capitalization (or lack thereof) seems to be completely at the writer's discretion.
Everyone would be wrong. Capitalizing "potato chips" doesn’t make them taste better, nor does capitalizing “Revolutionary.” And unless “Snack Product” is part of the Fiddlesticks name, it shouldn’t be capitalized, either.
Let’s look to the Associated Press Stylebook
for guidance: "In general, avoid unnecessary capitals."
Short, sweet and to the point. Sounds easy enough, doesn’t it?
Here are a few additional guidelines that will help you keep straight capitalization rules.
• In short, capitalize proper names and proper nouns, such as Kate Upton and Philadelphia Eagles.
• Of course, capitalize the first word in a sentence.
• When it comes to titles, it’s a bit tricky. When the title comes before the name, capitalize it, as in Philadelphia Phillies General Manager Ruben Amaro, Jr. When the title is after the name, lowercase it, as in Ruben Amaro, Jr., general manager of the Philadelphia Phillies.
• Academic degrees are not capitalized, unless a language is involved. You can have a bachelor’s degree in English, but not in, say, chemistry.
• Product names are capitalized, such as Ford Mustang.
• Rules related to services are less clear, but generally should be lowercase. Many companies capitalize their services offered, which is wrong, such as in this case: "Tri-Lambda Computer Co. offers Repair Service, Virus Removal, RAM Installation, Data Recovery and Data Backup." None of those words after "Co." should be capitalized, with the exception of "RAM," which is an acronym for “random access memory.”
• An interesting exception to these rules often is with company names. In that case, follow whatever they use, whether it’s all capital letters, all lower case or some variation in between.
When in doubt, check an old-fashioned tool which still works, even today: a dictionary.
Andy Gotlieb is a public relations writer at integrated marketing agency Garfield Group. A version of this story originally appeared on the company's blog.