From Wikimedia Commons

From Wikimedia Commons

This post can be summarized in three simple words: “DON’T USE THEM!”

NYC’s The Deli magazine goes so far as to put a warning at the top of its comments section: “Note: Comments written in all caps will not be posted.”

But why is the use of ALL CAPS (also known as CAPS LOCK) so undesirable?

Well, here’s one good reason, which we’ll call “experiential”: have you ever tried reading a press release with 12 headlines all in all caps? I’ve tried, and I don’t recommend it. (And as PR Underground notes: “In the online world, all-caps is frowned upon and may even get your release blocked from Google News.” Consider us publicists all duly warned.)

All caps are sometimes used for emphasis, since words appear bolder and louder in their puffed-up form. They’re often used in advertisements or on signposts, on book covers and in newspaper headlines of yore, and historically — perhaps weirdly — in the small print of legal documents and disclaimers.

Courtesy Wikiwand

Courtesy Wikiwand

However, capitalizing more than just a few words can give the effect of shouting or screaming — a fairly undesirable quality in printed prose. If you want to scream at someone virtually, just hit the caps lock key and off you go. Your reader won’t thank you.

Do you need another witness for the prosecution in the case of People vs. ALL CAPS? Well, here’s some century-old scientific evidence from Miles Tinker, an authority on print legibility, who had the following to say about screaming caps back in the 1960s* — and his findings still stand tall today:

All-capital print greatly retards speed of reading in comparison with lower-case type. Also, most readers judge all capitals to be less legible. Faster reading of the lower-case print is due to the characteristic word forms furnished by this type. This permits reading by word units, while all capitals tend to be read letter by letter. Furthermore, since all-capital printing takes at least one-third more space than lower case, more fixation pauses are required for reading the same amount of material. The use of all capitals should be dispensed with in every printing situation.

According to Tinker, “as early as 1914, Starch** reported that material set in Roman lower case was read somewhat faster than similar material printed in all capitals.”


( “Title Case” or “Headline Case” — in Which the First Letters of All Words Except Small Ones Like “in” or “and” Are Capitalized — Can Be Discussed Separately, as can “Start Case”, In Which Case All Words, However Big Or Small, Start With A Capital Letter. But neither of these cases is as egregious as ALL CAPS. )



* Tinker, Miles A. (1963). Legibility of Print. Ames, Iowa: Iowa State University Press. p. 65.

* * D. Starch, Advertising, 1914, Chicago: Scott, Foresman, quoted in Miles Tinker, Bases for Effective Reading, 1965, Minneapolis, Lund Press. p. 136

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