Speaking a language involves understanding, recognizing and successfully using a set of grammar rules. However, when writing in a language, a whole new set of rules have to be learnt and used. English is no different. One question I get quite often from my participants who are writing a report or preparing slides for a presentation is when to capitalize a letter. Because we are speaking about English, the answer isn’t exactly straightforward. There are a few basic rules, but the rest are a matter of style. As usual, the most important thing is consistency. Remaining consistent makes your writing more professional and polished. Otherwise, your work looks lazy and shoddy.
That said, the three basic rules to remember can be broken down as follows:
- Capitalize the first word in a sentence. This is an easy one that is pretty consistent across languages with Latin-based alphabets.
- Capitalize the pronoun ‘I’ in any location. Remember that you are important! You are so important that you use a big letter when talking about yourself.
- Capitalize all proper nouns. If it is the official word for something, capitalize the first letter. This goes for cities, countries, companies, brand names, days, months, people’s names or nicknames, etc.
That seems pretty basic and covers just about everything, so what else is there to worry about? Well, what about titles of reports and presentations? Here you can do it one of two ways. Either capitalize only the first letter of the title, or the first letter of each important word, like in the below example.
- A study on customer behavior with supporting data
- A Study on Customer Behavior with Supporting Data
Once again, consistency is key. After you have picked your style, make sure you use it on each subsequent page or slide. If you are preparing a presentation, the same rules apply for each bullet point. Thus, is it important to use the same style for your bullet points as you are using for your titles. This will give your final presentation a polished and professional look.
What other grammar problems do you come across when you write in English? How are the rules for English different than for your native language? Let us know in the comments box below.