Capital letters: less is more

Publication date
Thursday 4 March 2021

While it might be tempting to use capital letters for emphasis or to show respect, there are clear rules around when they can be used and when they should be avoided.

When we write a job title we often feel the need to use upper case, so we do not disrespect the person in that job. But there’s a risk that we will disrespect the reader if we do not capitalise with care.

Respect for the reader

Knowing when to use a capital letter is a sign of respect for the reader. Readability and clarity are enhanced with correct use.

Using capital letters when they should be lower case, or lower case when they should be capitalised, disrupts the flow of reading.

Example

Dr Sam Brown is the Skin Specialist at this clinic. [There’s no need to capitalise ‘skin specialist’.]

Yesterday the attorney-general of Australia travelled to Japan. [‘Attorney-General of Australia’ is a proper name and should be capitalised.]

Legislated title

Style Manual guidance says to use capital letters for titles specified in legislation.

Example

The Prime Minister announced the new initiative this morning.

Chief Scientist, Alan Finkel.

Use lower case for generic references.

Example

The team met with the prime ministers of the United Kingdom, Australia and Canada.

Organisational titles

Unless Style Manual advises otherwise, avoid using capitals in paragraph text for a particular position or role within an organisation. In non-paragraph text, use upper case if the title precedes the person’s name, and use lower case when it follows the name.

Example

Chief Information Officer, Jane Nguyen.

Jane Nguyen, chief information officer.

When the person you’re referring to was formerly in the role, use lower case for the title.

Example

They were the former marketing manager.

Otherwise, use sentence case for organisation titles and proper names or use lower case for general references in content.

Example

Professor A Lee is also a general practitioner.

Outside your organisation

A proper noun or organisation title may not be recognised by everyone outside the organisation. People's titles in the Senior Executive Service (SES) vary a lot.

Example

They welcomed the branch manager, Diana Seymour, to the conference.

Gregory Levantis is the new product manager for the section.

It’s critical to remember that using lower case in this way is not disrespectful.

You can find the rules and guidance for job titles in the Style Manual under titles, honours and forms of address, punctuation and capitalisation, and government terms.

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