Re: Heading and Title Capitalization

Subject: Re: Heading and Title Capitalization
From: Elna Tymes <etymes -at- LTS -dot- COM>
Date: Tue, 2 Mar 1999 05:39:11 -0800

> Leonard Porrello wrote: Since the rule (Chicago and MLA) regarding
> titles is to capitalize the first letter of every content word, to deviate
> might unwarrantedly attract a literate user's attention.

and Phil Atkinson responded:

> You refer to Chicago (Chicago Manual of Style I assume) and MLA (?) as
> providing rules. Neither of these publications, or any other style guide,
> provides rules - they can only provide conventions and guidelines. The very
> nature of style today is that there are very few (if any rules) that
> ultimately cannot be broken or redefined. ... The first rule I follow when
> writing user documentation is that the user comes first - if it works for
> them, it works for me.

TheChicago Manual of Style and the Modern Language Association (MLA) provide
style and grammar guidelines that a large portion of the English-speaking world
uses - whether they know it or not - as standards for "proper" English. Think
of them as wide-accepted conventions for written English. When creating
user-friendly documentation, it's important to communicate in language that is
meaningful to the user, and using proper English is more meaningful to most
people than, say, hip hop or surfer lingo.

Most of us who wind up working in a documentation department come to realize,
sooner or later, that there needs to be a set of rules or conventions about
'how we do things at Company XYZ' particularly with regard to language. In
virtually all cases, these conventions came about because they represented, at
the time, the collected wisdom of the XYZ writers as to how XYZ's customers
preferred to see information. And since the Chicago Manual of Style and the
grammar and language guidelines of the MLA represent widely followed
conventions for proper English, it makes sense to follow those guidelines.

For instance, capitalizing every word in a heading, including the prepositions,
isn't consistent with the guidelines in the Chicago Manual of Style. Nor is it
a style I'm used to reading in most books, newspapers, and other professionally
written material. Therefore such a heading feels a little jarring to me, and
creates the impression that the writer doesn't know proper English and
therefore the rest of the content may not be very trustworthy either. (Mind
you, these are snap judgments made in milliseconds and at a subliminal level,
much like one decides which articles in a newspaper to read.)

I don't know if you remember when the desktop publishing packages first
appeared, giving the writer lots of choices as to fonts and styles and sizes.
Some of the early dtp-produced work was simply awful, because individual
writers decided that mixing several fonts and sizes was a good way to present
information and make certain things stand out. Their work stood out, all right
- and in reaction came a lot of the conventions behind today's dtp templates.
Same thing applies to unconventional use of capitalization in headings - stray
too far from the Chicago Manual of Style and MLA guidelines and you get a
reaction you probably don't want.

Elna Tymes
Los Trancos Systems

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