Writing in All Caps Comes Across As Shouting

Don't annoy your co-workers and friends by writing in all caps

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One of the cardinal rules of writing online, whether in an email or instant message or on an online forum or social networking website, is to never use all capital letters in your posts or messages. This is known as writing in ALL CAPS. If you make this mistake, you may quickly be told to stop shouting or be booted out of a game or forum. Even though writing in all caps attracts the attention of the reader, that attention is often accompanied by annoyance, which is probably not the effect you intended and rarely desirable.

When you write in all capital letters, most recipients assume you are shouting at them. Others assume you are an attention-seeker and view the behavior as rude. You should use all caps sparingly. It is a strong effect and should remain one. In only a few cases is using all caps the right choice.

When to Write in All Caps

Just as when you speak to others, you may sometimes want to make your text SOUND louder for emphasis. Usually, uppercasing a single word draws attention without the ire of the reader. When you're genuinely upset and would yell the same words you are writing if you were with the recipient, all caps is the way to go. Then and only then is it acceptable to use all uppercase letters in an online communication.

Text in all uppercase is significantly more difficult to read than lowercase and mixed-case text. It's best to write online in sentence case or mixed case, with proper nouns capitalized along with the first letter of the first word. That is how people are used to reading printed material.

All caps are best used only for short strings of words rather than full sentences. You could choose instead to use italics or bold to set off text for emphasis.

If you type in all caps because you find it faster and more convenient, consider using lowercase only. You will annoy some people, yes, but all lowercase seems more widely accepted than all caps.

The History of All Caps Writing

Old-time teletype machines and some early computers used all caps. In newsrooms, reporters and on-air announcers were used to reading wire service stories, police reports, and weather bulletins that were transmitted in all caps. The U.S. Navy hung on to using uppercase in its messaging system until 2013, and the National Weather Service didn't switch to mixed case in its bulletins until May 2016.

The modern interpretation of using all caps originated in the old Usenet newsgroups, which were the forerunners of forums. In 1984, one user explained "if it's in caps i'm trying to YELL!" That same year, another user, Dave Decot, attempted to define emphasizers in use in newsgroups. He identified three:

  1. Using CAPITAL LETTERS to make words look "louder",
  2. Using *asterisks* to put sparklers around emphasized words, and
  3. S p a c i n g  words o u t, possibly accompanied by 1 or 2.

Despite the precedents for using all uppercase, early in the internet era, the use of all caps on bulletin boards and in email was discouraged, and people who used it were accused of shouting and being rude. For many years, composing a message in all caps was regarded as a sign of a newbie to the online realm.

It is harder to use all caps when texting with a mobile device because there isn't an easy caps-lock button on every mobile virtual keyboard like there is with physical computer keyboards. You're almost forced away from writing in all caps because of the difficulty. However, use of random capitalization, especially in names, has for some years been considered edgy and fashionable among younger users, even though it is tedious to input on a mobile device or standard keyboard. Random capitalization is unpopular because it is difficult to read.

Types of Cases

Mixed case (also referred to as sentence case) is the best option for all your online communications. It is familiar to the reader and easy to read. Here are examples of the different cases:

  • Mixed case or sentence case: This is a mixed case sentence with only the first word and proper nouns such as John Smith capitalized.
  • Title case: The First Letter of Most Words Is Capitalized in Title Case.
  • All lowercase: this sentence is written all in lowercase letters.
  • Randomly mixed capitalization: ThIs mEaNs you wRitE UsiNg capiTals aT RanDom.
  • CamelCase: This is not usually used for sentences but rather for branding, with a capital letter in the middle of a name, such as FedEx or WordPerfect. When used with a brand, this is acceptable, but that is about the only time you should capitalize characters in this way.