A reader named Michelle sent me an excellent capitalization challenge. She received a brief article (indented below) to publish in a magazine, and she wants to follow standard capitalization rules.
Which categories of capitalization would you change in Michelle's example? Would you change job titles, divisions, or anything else? (I have fictionalized the details.)
Decide on changes before you read the rules below.
Detective John Harris began his Law Enforcement career as a Reserve at the Clover Ridge Police Department in 1997. He moved to Greenville and became a Reserve for the Harrison Police Department in 1999. After testing, John became a full-time Police Officer for the Harrison PD in 2000.
John joined the Marion County Sheriff’s Office in 2002 as a Sheriff’s Deputy and was promoted to Detective in 2012. He has worked in Property Crimes, Financial Crimes, and Auto Theft before arriving in Family Violence. We are delighted to add John to our unit, but we are heavy hearted about saying goodbye to Detective Dale Estes.
These rules can help you capitalize correctly in challenging writing samples like Michelle's:
1. Avoid unnecessary capitalization. Only capitalize something when you have a good reason to do so. Liking the way a word looks does not pass as a good reason.
2. Capitalize proper nouns. Proper nouns are the unique names of specific people, places, and things. For instance, if "Clover Ridge Police Department" is the proper name of the police department, it deserves capitalization.
3. Don't capitalize common nouns. A common noun is a label but not a specific, unique name. "Law Enforcement" is not a specific name in Michelle's piece--it is a career. That's why it should be lower case rather than capitalized. The same goes for "Reserve" and "Detective" when they do not come before an individual's name. They are generic rather than proper names.
4. Capitalize a title when it comes directly before a person's name, not separated from the name even by punctuation. "Detective Dale Estes" is correctly capitalized. In contrast, "our retiring detective, Dale Estes" would have a lower case title.
Those rules resolve most of the challenges in Michelle's piece. One that remains involves Property Crimes, Financial Crimes, Auto Theft, and Family Violence. What would you want to know about those terms before you capitalized them?
I will post my revision tomorrow. In the meantime, feel free to comment or post yours.
Do you see rampant capitalization in the pieces you read or edit?
March 20 update: Below is my revision. It assumes that the names of the police departments, sheriff's office, and work units are official.
Detective John Harris began his law enforcement career as a reserve at the Clover Ridge Police Department in 1997. He moved to Greenville and became a reserve for the Harrison Police Department in 1999. After testing, John became a full-time police officer for the Harrison PD in 2000.
John joined the Marion County Sheriff’s Office in 2002 as a sheriff’s deputy and was promoted to detective in 2012. He has worked in Property Crimes, Financial Crimes, and Auto Theft before arriving in Family Violence. We are delighted to add John to our unit, but we are heavy hearted about saying goodbye to Detective Dale Estes.