Why you should resist the urge to uppercase titles, products and more

If you’re writing about the president of a company, do you write his title with a capital P? What if he’s the president and founder?

What if he’s the chief executive officer, which everyone knows stands for CEO and not ceo? Do you capitalize the name of a local restaurant’s signature chili-spice fried chicken or their beef Wellington? And what’s up (literally) with bloody marys?

In a written work, too many capital letters can be the hallmark of an amateur — or a sales pitch. Companies like to treat their products, properties and people as if they’re all proper names even when they’re not. Timid writers seek to oblige, uppercasing words out fear of dishonoring someone’s title or trademark.

But if you want your writing to look more like professionally edited work, you should do the opposite. Newswriting shuns the idea that news articles should be deferential to business. If a nationwide restaurant chain wants everyone to refer to their spicy shrimp tacos as Spicy Shrimp Tacos, too bad.

If the same three words in a generic sense can describe the tacos, that’s how news most news publications lean. Obviously, that doesn’t work with a dish like Hula Pie because hula pie in the generic sense doesn’t mean anything. So the only times you’ll see a traditional news outlet treat a product as a proper name is when the name can’t be interpreted as generic description.

But those aren't the only cases when you should resist the urge to capitalize. Here's my recent column outlining even more.

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