7 Capitalization Rules for Professional Business Writing
In business English writing, it's important to capitalize words correctly for professionalism.
But when should you use capitalization? After all, there are exceptions with capital letters. Here are seven English capitalization rules to follow as you create professional business emails, reports, and more.
1. Capitalize the first word of a sentence
Use a capital letter at the start of every sentence. This rule might seem intuitive, but sometimes business writing such as for business emails can become sloppy.
For example: you might say "i need that report by Friday. it's important." These sentences improperly use lowercase letters at the beginning of each sentence.
2. Capitalize proper nouns
A proper noun is a specific person, place, or thing.
Here are some examples:
- Nelson Mandela (person)
- The Louvre (place)
- Microsoft (thing)
Notice how these are all names of specific people, places, or things, and not generic people (doctor), places (playground), or things (computer).
Here is a more detailed list of nouns you should capitalize:
- Titles of books
- Governmental bodies
- Religions and the names of their deities
- Cities, states, and countries
- Roads/street names
- Names of monuments (man-made or not)
- Names of companies, institutions, and brands
- Names of departments
- Political parties
- Names of colleges (e.g., Auburn University)
- Academic degrees
- Races, ethnicities, and nationalities aside from black and white
Tip: Terms like "Mom" and "Dad" are only capitalized if you're using them as forms of address.
3. Capitalize time periods and events*
Capitalize time periods, historical events, and eras as you would other proper nouns. Here are several examples:
- Middle Ages
- World War II
- The Cold War
- The Byzantine Empire
- Boston Tea Party
*Don't capitalize centuries and century numbers (e.g., sixteenth century).
4. Capitalize job titles
These are where some of the confusion stems from. Job titles seem specific and general at the same time (you can be a doctor or Dr. Smith, right?). In general, job titles that come BEFORE a name are capitalized, while those that come AFTER a name are not.
- President Jimmy Carter
- Marlene Kim, president
- Professor Kathryn Archard
- Kathryn Archard, professor
5. Capitalize days, months, and holidays
Names of days, months, and holidays count as proper nouns so make sure to capitalize. Here are examples:
- Days: Monday, Wednesday, Friday
- Months: January, February, March
- Holidays: Christmas, Hanukkah, Valentine's Day
Tip: Don't capitalize the names of seasons (e.g., fall) as they are not proper nouns.
6. Sometimes capitalize after a colon
Most of the time, you won't capitalize after a colon. For example, "I want one thing this morning: coffee."
However, there are exceptions to this rule. Capitalize when
- a proper noun comes after the colon, or
- when the words following the colon form a complete sentence.
For example, "I'm going to my favorite place on earth: Rome."
Or "Zach is moving to the new location for two reasons: He received a promotion. He also wanted to be closer to the college."
7. Capitalize the first word of a quote
Capitalize the first word of a quote when the quote in quotation marks is a complete sentence. Don't capitalize the first word of partial quotes:
- Erin said, "I can't wait for my wedding!"
- Joshua mentioned that his work was "rewarding, but exhausting."
When to break the rules
Like almost everything related to English grammar, the rules can sometimes be broken. Sometimes you will have a boss or a supervisor who always wants his or her title capitalized. Sometimes, not capitalizing something looks like sloppy formatting (in a brochure, table, or program, for example). In both of these circumstances, capitalize!
When NOT to break the rules
You can’t break the above rules whenever you want, though. When you capitalize something “randomly,” for example, to add emphasis on social media or within an email, you confuse your readers because they assume it is a proper noun.
I was interviewed by CNN about President Trump's tendency to capitalize phrases in his tweets that normally would not be capitalized.
Capitalization signals a brand, product, or specific person, so when it is used for other words, you create an unnecessary and unwarranted sense of importance.
What about other parts of speech?
Nouns, and specifically proper nouns, are the only words you should capitalize aside from the first word in a sentence. Do not capitalize verbs or adjectives.
Learn more about correct, effective business writing
We recommend leveling up your writing skills even more by taking an online business writing course. Learn more about our Business Writing Techniques for Non-Native English Writers Course with online lessons, instructor feedback, and more.