Writing question

James E. Clapp jeclapp at WANS.NET
Thu Nov 11 18:24:36 UTC 1999

Amy Speed wrote:
> >
> >One of the points I'd like to make and back up with research is the
> >capitalization of words which don't require it. . . .
> >
> >Andrea
> I just had an interesting site forwarded to me concerning capitalization. In
> it I found the sentence, "Can there be a more lovely place in the Whole
> World?"

The effect of initial caps on readability is an entirely separate question
from the effect of writing entirely in caps.

As Amy's example demonstrates, people often use initial caps for emphasis; it
seems to give words Importance.  (Which would you assume gets paid more: the
president and chief operating officer or the President and Chief Operating
Officer?)  We often see quotation marks used for the same purpose.  Not to
mention italics, bold, and making specific words all caps.

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.)

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.

In any case, speaking at least for myself, it definitely does slow down
reading, but for different reasons from all caps, which also slows down

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.

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

James E. Clapp

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