We’ve all seen that text message or social media post where it looks like the writer hit the Caps Lock key and couldn’t figure out how to turn it off. People often laugh about it as a marker of older generations, but the truth is that all caps is often overused in writing, regardless of the age of the writer.
But all caps (also known as shouty caps) does have its place and and purpose.
What is all caps?
All caps is just that, the capitalization of every character in a word, phrase, or block of text. It contrasts with sentence case and title case. Take, for example, the title of this post.
Sentence case—Don’t shout at me!
Title case—Don’t Shout at Me!
All caps—DON’T SHOUT AT ME!
What is it used for?
All caps is generally used for emphasis, in conjunction with bolding. It stands out and draws the eye. That’s why it’s most often seen in headlines and chapter titles.
All caps is the literary equivalent of a shout. That shout can be indicative of excitement and joy or exasperation and anger, among other strong emotions.
Where do writers go wrong?
Because all caps is eye catching, many writers overuse or misuse it, capitalizing everything they want to emphasize.
The problem is that if you’re constantly or randomly shouting in your writing, readers can end up feeling battered, attacked, or overwhelmed.
Also, blocks of text in all caps are incredibly hard to read. We may not realize it, but we don’t usually read the actual words on a page, letter for letter. Unless we come across an unfamiliar word, we recognize the shape of the word rather than the letters it contains.
That’s why we can read those funny posts on social media telling us we’re a genius if we can read it despite so many of the letters being jumbled up or replaced with other characters.
What do we use instead?
When we speak, we communicate almost as much with how we say something as with what we say. Think of character formatting (bolding, italics, capitalization, etc.) as adding tone to your writing. Bolding and italics are about adding intensity, while capitalization is about adding volume.
That’s not to say you should never use all caps. If it didn’t have its place, MS Word wouldn’t have a button to conveniently convert a selected section of text automatically to all caps. (See the Font section of the Home ribbon if you’re interested.)
As I said above, it’s often used in headlines, titles, and subheadings. You can also use it in dialogue to indicate actual shouting. But it is most powerful when used sparingly, limited to a few words and not very often.
Rebecca has a passion for helping you fill the world with great literature and making sure said literature doesn't get passed over for the lack of a little editing.