I spend two or three hours a week converting unnecessary capital letters into small letters. Seriously. It isn’t that any one author misuses capital letters—it’s that so many people do it so much of the time that it takes a huge chuck out of a work day to alter so many e-mails.

Since this is the first in what I hope will be a series of blogs on writing, I decided to start with unnecessary capitalization.

A lot of people think capitalizing words gets people’s attention.

Yes and no. Saying hello in a normal tone of voice will get someone’s attention. Screaming hello in someone’s face will also get you their attention. However, screaming hello will also annoy people. It is worth noting that on the Internet, capitalizing all the letters in a word is the equivalent of shouting or yelling. Sometimes you have to shout to be heard, but if you’re shouting all the time then it may be time to rethink your communication technique.

Some people think you have to capitalize all the letters in all the words in the title of a book, movie or event. Capitalize the first letters—except for the words “the”, “a,” and “of.” Leave the rest alone.

The most pervasive myth about capital letters—the one that costs me hours of time that could be better spent reporting on life in Seal Beach—is that Using Capital Letters Makes Someone Or Something Important.

I see this a lot in press releases written by amateurs. I’ve seen documents where every single word was capitalized in an effort to create the illusion of importance and force a feeling of excitement on readers. Don’t kid yourself. If your subject is important to the reader, using small letters won’t cause the subject to cease being interesting. If the subject is algebra, capitalizing that first letter won’t generate enthusiasm.

One of the most important poets of the 20th century was e. e. cummings, who often used deliberate misspellings in his poems. Using small letters in his name did not make him important. The conventions of the English language say my name should be capitalized. I am a very minor person in the city of Seal Beach.

Which brings me to a good rule of thumb about capitalization. If it is the name of a person, geographic location or government agency—by all means, capitalize the first letters. If not, don’t bother.

Maybe this will kill some of those capital letters, so I can devote a little more time to writing about Seal Beach, Rossmoor, Los Alamitos and the Sun Region generally.

See you next week.

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