High-Crime Area


In recent posts we’ve been identifying “alarms” we can set on commonly confused words, poorly understood punctuation rules, and other potential stumbling blocks. Today let’s look at a place in our writing that often contains errors: the title line.

Because most crimes committed in titles are capitalization mistakes, I can arm you for your quiz by sharing what I consider to be the three main rules:

• Capitalize all key words – nouns, verbs, pronouns, adjectives, adverbs, and “subordinating conjunctions” (words like “as,” “because,” and “while” that join a main clause to a subordinate clause).
• Capitalize the first and last word.
• Capitalize all words over a certain length. Some experts start at four letters and some at five, so you’re wise to determine your threshold and stick with it. For this quiz, let’s say a word needs five or more letters for an automatic initial cap.

Now, which words need initial caps in these titles?

1. fitzwater and son sign third contract with city

2. employees say new parking policy is welcome change

3. health fair on for friday: talk it up

4. opening of new branch now set for july

And the answers:

1. Fitzwater and Son Sign Third Contract with City (If your style is to use initial caps for all words that are four letters or longer, you’d make it “With.”)

2. Employees Say New Parking Policy Is Welcome Change (Remember that “is” is a verb, and even a two-letter verb starts with a capital letter.)

3. Health Fair on for Friday: Talk It Up (“It” is a pronoun, and “up” is the final word.)

4. Opening of New Branch Now Set for July “Now” is an adverb; “set” is a verb.)

Caps in email subject lines and subheads

Some writers – a minority – treat subject lines like titles. Why? We were never instructed to do so, and deciding which words get initial caps needlessly consumes time and opens us up to errors. Moreover, an inconsistent subject line like Need you to set Goal for Fund Drive can distract the reader, who’s wondering why “you” and “set” didn’t get initial caps.

Do yourself a favor. Just write Need you to set goal for fund drive.

And for that matter, I recommend doing the same in subheads. Write them the way headlines are written in the newspaper. Those professional journalists know what they’re doing.

In addition to presenting workshops on writing in the workplace, Norm Friedman is a writer, editor, and writing coach. His 100+ Instant Writing Tips is a brief “non-textbook” to help individuals overcome common writing errors and write with more finesse and impact. Learn more at http://www.normfriedman.com/index.shtml.

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