Should I Capitalize It? A Quick Lesson

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The art of whether or not to capitalize is a confusing one at best. Sometimes, it can feel like you’re taking a shot in the dark. I do a lot of editing and reading, and it unfortunately seems that people make the wrong choice more often than not.

Capitalization rules do vary across platforms. For example, in public relations, we have a whole set of rules that fall under AP style and dictate what does or does not get capitalized. However, whether you’re a PR person or not, AP style is great to follow because it is the guide for the majority of news and media platforms. So, if you’re a blogger or even writing a paper, it may be a good guide to consult. You can buy the AP Stylebook, or just Google questions you have.

Which brings us to our next point: If you’re unsure of it, Google it. It’s not 100% accurate, but as long as you find yourself a reliable source like Purdue OWL, you’re golden.

And now, here’s my Capitalization Guide for you:

  1. Article & Blog Titles – Yes. Ex: “In Defense of Cat Lovers.” Titles should always be capitalized, even in informal mediums like blog posts.
  2. Names of people – Yes. Any time you use a person’s proper name (Ex: John Smith, Jane Doe) you need to capitalize. Joe is a dude’s name, but joe is a cup of coffee.
  3. Brand name placesYes. Ex: McDonalds, Starbucks, Utica College, etc.
  4. Generic place names – No. Ex: school, pizza place, the mall. Exception: When we talk about UC in certain mediums, we may say “The College.”
  5. Majors – No. It’s public relations, cybersecurity (which is one word, FYI), accounting, etc. – always lowercase. Exception: Languages are always capitalized (Ex: French major, English major).
  6. Schools within the College – Yes. Ex: The School of Business and Justice Studies.
  7. College Building Names – Yes. Ex: Strebel Student Center, Frank E. Gannett Memorial Library, Romano Hall, etc.
  8. Languages & Nationalities – Yes. Ex: I speak Italian. I am Italian. I majored in Italian.
  9. Months – Yes. Always, even if they stand alone without a date. Ex: August, January, February, etc.
  10. Days of the week – Yes. Ex: Monday, Friday.
  11. Time of Day – No. For example, in AP style, always write “a.m.” and “p.m.” Those are lowercase. You also write “afternoon,” “morning,” and “evening” as lowercase. Even when paired with a day of the week (Ex: Monday night), it’s still lowercase.
  12. Seasons – No. This is one I see a lot, but generally, seasons are lowercase. Ex: My favorite season is fall. I hate shoveling snow in the winter. Exception: As a specific date, you usually capitalize. Ex: Fall 2014, Spring 2002, Winter 1989.
  13. Occupational Titles – Depends. Generally, but not always, if a formal title comes BEFORE the name, you capitalize. Ex: President Obama, Dean of the School of Arts and Sciences John H. Johnsen, Director of Media Relations Christine Leogrande. If the formal title comes AFTER the name, it is lowercase. Ex: Obama, president of the United States, spoke at the event. John H. Johnsen, dean of the school of arts and sciences, has been at UC since 1977.
    Informal titles like “blogger Colleen” are lowercase, and titles without a name are lowercase as well (Ex: The custodian cleaned the mess).
  14. Book, Song, & Movie Titles – Yes. Ex: Both the book, “The Maze Runner,” and the movie, “The Maze Runner,” are capitalized. Exception: Unless they appear at the beginning of a title, never capitalize words like: the, a, of, for, to, from, and, or, in, on, at, etc. (Ex: The Hunger Games, Alice in Wonderland, If I Stay, The Wizard of Oz).
  15. Regional/Directional – Depends. If you use north, south, east, west, etc. in the sense of direction, it’s lowercase. Ex: Drive north two miles; I live south of Canada. However, if you use them in a regional sense, they’re capitalized. Ex: My family loves the Southeast region; I hate the Northeast winters.
  16. Class year – No. You are a junior, sophmore, etc.
  17. Events – Depends, if they’re specific. Ex: Making Strides, Homecoming Weekend 2014, The Executive Lecture Series, etc. Exception: non-specific events. Ex: Every college has a homecoming weekend / I want to be in a parade / There is a dance next weekend.
  18. Relatives – Depends. This is like the titles rule. If it’s before a name, Yes. For example, my Aunt Becky and Uncle Jesse. If it stands alone, no. For example: my aunt and uncle. Exception: if the title stands to replace the name. For example: “Put your clothes away,” Mom said. Mom is capitalized because it replaces her name.
  19. Website, Social Media Platforms, & Apps – Yes. Ex: Facebook, Instagram, Google, Yahoo!, Angry Birds, Student Voices, etc.
  20. Clubs & Organizations – Yes. Ex: Asa Gray, UC Concert Choir, Alpha Phi Delta, Student Senate, etc.

Did I miss something? What capitalization questions do you have?

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