Excessive capitalization is widespread in business, particularly in job titles. Know when it’s appropriate to capitalize.

People frequently uppercase a word because they saw it capitalized elsewhere, because it “looks right,” or because they just asked someone and were told it should be capitalized. A better place to find guidance is a stylebook, a great resource for such issues (as well as punctuation and spelling).  Although The Associated Press Stylebook is the most widely used in journalism and business, The Chicago Manual of Style — the second most commonly used — offers more explanation on some topics. On capitalization, both books agree: use capitalization sparingly.

We all learned in school that proper nouns are capitalized, but many people are confused about what constitutes a proper noun. The AP Stylebook defines it as “the unique identification” of something. So Boston University would be uppercase, but if you refer later to the university, that would be lowercase, because once you take university out of its proper noun context, it is no longer a proper noun.

Many words derived from or associated with proper names (brussels sprouts, board of directors), and the names of significant offices (president’s office) may be lowercased with no loss of clarity or respect, say The Chicago Manual editors. Understanding is best served by capitalizing only what are clearly proper nouns and adjectives in the context under discussion.

Take titles, for example. Standard business writing style calls for capitalizing a title only when it appears directly before a name. Examples are President Macron, Pope Francis, Doctor Smith, or Senior Vice President Pam Sears. The title is almost part of the name, because the name rarely appears without the title. However, if the title appears after the name, as in Tina Benson, vice president of marketing, then it is lowercase. The title also is not capitalized when it appears alone, as in, we just hired a new sales manager. That is a generic use of the title sales manager. It has no distinction unless it appears immediately before the person’s name.

In a company’s annual report, a list of corporate officers might have capitalized titles after the name as a courtesy or because of internal politics.

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