Capitalized and small a


In general, avoid unnecessary capitals. Use a capital letter only if you can justify it by one of the principles listed here.

Many words and phrases, including special cases, are listed separately in this book. Entries that are capitalized without further comment should be capitalized in all uses.
If there is no relevant listing in this book for a particular word or phrase, consult Webster’s New World College Dictionary. Use lowercase if the dictionary lists it as an acceptable form for the sense in which the word is being used.
As used in this book, capitalize means to use uppercase for the first letter of a word. If additional capital letters are needed, they are called for by an example or a phrase such as use all caps.
Some basic principles:
PROPER NOUNS: Capitalize nouns that constitute the unique identification for a specific person, place, or thing: JohnMaryAmericaBostonEngland.
Some words, such as the examples just given, are always proper nouns. Some common nouns receive proper noun status when they are used as the name of a particular entity: General ElectricGulf Oil.
PROPER NAMES: Capitalize common nouns such as partyriverstreet and westwhen they are an integral part of the full name for a person, place or thing: Democratic PartyMississippi RiverFleet StreetWest Virginia.
Lowercase these common nouns when they stand alone in subsequent references: the partythe riverthe street.
Lowercase the common noun elements of names in plural uses: the Democratic and Republican parties, Main and State streets, lakes Erie and Ontario. Exception: plurals of formal titles with full names are capitalized: Presidents Jimmy Carter and Gerald R. Ford.
Among entries that provide additional guidelines are:
animals holidays and holy days
brand names legislature
building months
committee monuments
Congress nicknames
datelines organizations and institutions
days of the week planets
directions and regions plants
family names police department
food religious references
geographic names seasons
governmental bodies trademarks
heavenly bodies unions
historical periods and events
POPULAR NAMES: Some places and events lack officially designated proper names but have popular names that are the effective equivalent: the Combat Zone (a section of downtown Boston), the Main Line (a group of Philadelphia suburbs), the South Side (of Chicago), the Badlands (of South Dakota), the Street (the financial community in the Wall Street area of New York).
The principle applies also to shortened versions of the proper names of one-of-a-kind events: the Series (for the World Series), the Derby (for the Kentucky Derby). This practice should not, however, be interpreted as a license to ignore the general practice of lowercasing the common noun elements of a name when they stand alone.
DERIVATIVES: Capitalize words that are derived from a proper noun and still depend on it for their meaning: AmericanChristianChristianityEnglishFrenchMarxismShakespearean.
Lowercase words that are derived from a proper noun but no longer depend on it for their meaning: french friesherculeanmalapropismpasteurizequixoticvenetian blind.
SENTENCES: Capitalize the first word in a statement that stands as a sentence. See sentences and parentheses.
In poetry, capital letters are used for the first words of some phrases that would not be capitalized in prose. See poetry.
COMPOSITIONS: Capitalize the principal words in the names of books, movies, plays, poems, operas, songs, radio and television programs, works of art, etc. See composition titlesmagazine names and newspaper names.
TITLES: Capitalize formal titles when used immediately before a name. Lowercase formal titles when used alone or in constructions that set them off from a name by commas.
Use lowercase at all times for terms that are job descriptions rather than formal titles.
ABBREVIATIONS: Capital letters apply in some cases. See abbreviations and acronyms.

Journalism Style Guide

Most news organizations have style and ethics handbooks. They expect reporters, editors and producers to follow the guidelines they lay out.

When it comes to writing, this means that reporters use the same abbreviations, punctuation and approach to writing.

Here’s an example from the Reuters Handbook:


Use sparingly. Inject color into copy with strong verbs and facts first. If you have more than two adjectives before a noun, rewrite the sentence. A reader struggles with “the one-eyed poverty-stricken Greek house painter.” Avoid adjectives that imply judgment: “a hard-line speech,” “a glowing tribute,” “a staunch conservative.” Depending on where they stand, some people might consider the speech moderate, the tribute fulsome or the conservative a die-hard reactionary.

When using an adjective and a noun together as an adjective, hyphenate them if it helps to avoid a realistic ambiguity: “a sliced egg sandwich” could mean two things; “a happy birthday card” cannot; “a blue-chip share,” “high-caste Hindus.” By extension, adverbs that end in “-ly” paired with adjectives modifying nouns do not need hyphens, since adverbs cannot modify nouns: “a poorly planned operation” cannot be misconstrued to mean an operation that is poorly and that is planned.

The Reuters’ handbook is a great free resource for you to use. If you wonder about capitalizations, abbreviations, or many other writing questions, please look here:


Our Class Style Guide

  • Write in the active voice. That means the subject does the action. You can find more on this website here.
  • Start your paragraphs at the margin.
  • Write out numbers one through nine.  Use numerals beyond 10.
  • Write out the full name of a person, organization company, country or state before you use an abbreviation or the initials.

You can use initials for well-known names like the FBI or DEA. When the name is unfamiliar write out the full name: The Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms, before you write ATF.

When you abbreviate the United States always put a period between the letters. U.S. to avoid confusion with us.

Because most of your work will appear on a website, write out the full name of a company or organization followed by the initials in parenthesis. For example The Federal Trade Commission (FTC).


  • Link to the company or organization when you mention them. If you site research, link to the page where you found the research. Also mark open a new page or tab when you create the link.
  • Write percent rather than %
  • When you quote someone, punctuation goes inside the quotation marks. For example,

“Being around guns didn’t affect on me, but knowing how to use guns definitely had an impact on me,” Max said.

Use . . . three dots, at the beginning and end when you use only part of a quote.

  • Capitalize job titles only when they come before a name.  For example: City College President Vincent Boudreau.

Use the lower case when you write, “The City College president held a town hall meeting.”

If we talk about the president of the United States, “The president told his supporters that he doesn’t care what other people think.”

“President Trump said he doesn’t care what people think.”

Some words sound alike but have different meanings. People confuse affect and effect frequently.

  • Use affect as an adjective, noun or verb when you want to say that something influences or when something is put on.  “Nicky’s yelling affected everyone in the room.”  Or, “Nicky affected an angry air.”

Use effect when you mean the result.  “They felt the effects of the drug.”

Use italics for the names of books, magazines, newspapers, plays, movies, works of art, TV programs, radio shows, songs, albums.

  • Avoid fussy words that connect ideas:





  • You can find more examples of fussy words and phrases in the How We Write section of this website.
  • We’ll continue to add to our style guide.