Writing question

A. Vine avine at ENG.SUN.COM
Thu Nov 11 18:54:46 UTC 1999

"James E. Clapp" wrote:
> When words that are not normally capitalized are capitalized it slows me down
> because in reading my mind gives those words a little extra stress.  (Then
> often they slow me down more because I get annoyed that I was duped into
> giving special stress to words that really didn't need it, and annoyed that
> conventional capitalization rules readers rely upon [capitalization signifies
> proper noun] are being disregarded, and annoyed at the affectation [it's like
> Cosmo-style overuse of italics], and so on; but that's probably just me.)

Not just you, I assure you.  One of the reasons I want to have some research to
back up my claim is that I want to get folks in the computer industry, including
the tech writers, to stop capitalizing a word just because it might be a
computer term or command somewhere somehow.  Tech writing and user interfaces
should not be special in this regard, and I believe the excess capitalization
makes for an unfriendly interface.  It certainly bugs me.

> I'm sure the caps are often thrown in not to give special emphasis but just
> because the writer has a vague feeling that important words, especially nouns,
> are supposed to be capitalized.  I suspect that much capitalization of this
> sort is really quite unconscious.

And born of ignorance.  English isn't German.  Heck, these days, German isn't

> Come to think of it, another thing that slows me down is writing with no caps.
> When i see writing in which words or names or abbreviations that would
> conventionally be capitalized are not--which seldom occurs in the ads list--i
> find it quite distracting.  This obviously has nothing to do with the inherent
> features of the I-shape as distinguished from the i-shape: Much of what makes
> text readable or not is just a question of whether the conventions that people
> are accustomed to from a lifetime of reading are followed.  Anything that
> departs from the convention tends to cause a little hiccup.

not an e.e.cummings fan, eh?

> Of course, change can occur, and new conventions can replace old.  See, e.g.,
> the free and frequent capitalization in the Declaration of Independence and
> the capitalization of virtually all nouns in the Constitution of the United
> States.

But Those Words were Important, Weren't They?

(No kidding, that's the way many messages are capitalized when I get them.)


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