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Writing in ALL CAPS

Updated: Jul 7, 2023

Sometimes it seems like all caps is needed to really emphasize what you're writing, but we're here to tell you that it is NOT!


Usually. There's always an exception, isn't there?


First, let's talk about some reasons why hitting that caps lock key is tempting in your writing.


The Upsides

All caps writing is used to:

  • Emphasize

    • You NEED to start working out--TODAY!

  • Show that a character is yelling

    • "OH MY GOSH!" Matilda yelled. "WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!"

  • Catch attention, such as in advertising

    • ONE NIGHT ONLY!

  • Title a chapter, book, subchapter, etc.

    • CHAPTER NINE: TIME CAPSULES

  • Clarify is a word is an acronym or initialism

    • NASA has been working on the ISS.


Advertising and book/chapter titles are perfectly fine, stylistic/marketing uses of all caps. The final example, acronyms and initialisms, is a no-brainer: you have to use all caps for those. (There are a few exceptions, like scuba and laser, which are both technically acronyms but have been adopted into English as words.)


But when it comes to emphasis and yelling, all caps may not be the best use. In fact, seeing a lot of all caps writing used in these two ways is sure to make your editor (and reader) cringe. Here's why.


The Downsides


Emphasis

What's more emotionally impactful: a teacher who is always yelling at the class getting angry, or a teacher who never yells at the class getting angry? A teacher who rarely raises her voice finally snapping is probably much more scary (or, you feel much worse/guiltier for making her do so) than a teacher who yells every other day.


All caps does emphasize, yes. But if you use all caps too often, it will lose all meaning. It will no longer function as emphasis.


Using all caps for emphasis can have the opposite effect of what is intended. It is intended to make your words seem more important, but can actually make your writing look immature or angry. People don't like being yelled at while they read.


It can also be harder on the eyes to read. Above all, by relying on visual tricks to get attention rather than the information in the writing itself, it tells the reader that you don't trust the words themselves to get the job done.


Check it out - using all caps creates a much different tone than simply not using them:

  • People are using THIS tactic ALL over the world, and are having AMAZING results.

  • People are using this tactic all over the world, and are having amazing results.


Chicago Manual of Style suggests using italics instead of all caps for emphasis. Italics are a little less aggressive and can actually help clarify the meaning of the sentence. See below how the emphasis changes the meaning of the sentence, though the words don't change:

  • She gave me the money.

  • She gave me the money.

  • She gave me the money.


Yelling

When it comes to fiction, all caps yelling is allowed...but can easily be overused.


You don't want to have your characters at a 10 out of 10, emotions-wise, all the time. If you have them screaming in all caps when they accidentally drop their pencil, you don't have anywhere to build to when their sidekick dies dramatically in the final battle. Trust your writing--and use other words to get your point across.


Instead of: "'GIVE IT TO ME!' she yelled," try...

  • "Give it to me!" she yelled.

  • "Give it to me!" she yelled.

Or, if it's not the most important thing in the world, consider toning it down entirely:

  • "Give it to me," she said.

Basically, ask yourself: do I want to use my all caps (or other emphasizers, like exclamation points, italics, swear words, etc.) now, or save them for later? Is this the most dramatic moment, or do I want to save this special superpower for a later time?


Think of them like lifelines in a game show. You can't phone a friend for every question, or you won't really be playing the game. Do you really need to phone a friend now, or can you save it for later, when you really need it?



Wrap-Up

There are moments where all caps can be effective, but overusing it will make it lose its power. Think of it like yelling in real life--if you yell all the time, people eventually don't take you seriously, but if you only raise your voice once in a blue moon, people will be more likely to realize the importance of what you're saying and listen carefully.


My overall suggestion is this: get rid of the all-caps writing. Trust that the words themselves are powerful enough to gain your reader's attention without having to use eye-catching tricks. If you feel you must emphasize, use italics, but even then, only use it occasionally--once a page, max. If you really, really, really want all caps, use the same rule--once a page, max (though, gosh, that's a lot of yelling). That way, you can keep the power and emphasis intact.


Simply, less is more.


Best of luck!

Christina

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