Netiquette and capital letters


In September 2009, a woman from New Zealand received compensation for being unfairly sacked. The reason for losing her job: sending emails that used too many sentences composed in capital letters (not to mention bold and red-coloured text). The story caused quite a stir at the time and was picked up by Laura Schocker of BBC News Magazine who posed the question Why do CAPITAL LETTERS so annoy us?

Print vs Web

In the article she referred to the historical foundations of print. At one time it was common to see full bodies of text printed in uppercase but as typography developed, this approach was dropped, due to the excessive amount of ink use on a page; all this ink gave a dark grey appearance and as a result proved difficult to read. The introduction of lowercase type changed this by bringing more whitespace into the page. As a result, capital letters were used for the beginning of sentences and for proper words, while bold and italic text was used for emphasis.

On the web, and in general writing, these standards are still in use today... or at least they should be.

Angry vs Emphatic

When writing emails or any web content on the internet, there’s a general rule that frowns upon the use of blocks of capital letters. It's seen as shouting and as such deemed aggressive behaviour or poor etiquette. There are exceptions to the rule, most commonly for short headings, where uppercase type can bring focus to a specific section. Or, of course, if the intention is to actually shout at the recipient.

Instead of capital letters the recommended approach is to use italic or bold text. It's surprising how the current generation of web users aren't aware of this. Perhaps it's laziness or maybe it's just plain ignorance. Our advice? Follow these simple rules of Netiquette and you'll be fine.

Rules of Netiquette

Net Etiquette the act of being polite to and considerate of others when communicating on the web.

Although not an exhaustive list, here’s eleven rules you should be aware of when it comes to communicating on the web:

  1. Check your spelling and grammar
  2. Use proper punctuation, as though you were typing a letter
  3. Avoid shortened words, it's not a text message you're sending
  5. Never publish anything you would not write on a postcard
  6. Use smileys to indicate tone of voice, but use them sparingly. Don't assume that the inclusion of a smiley will make the recipient happy with what you say or wipe out an otherwise insulting comment
  7. When commenting on blogs and forums or replying to an email, wait overnight to send emotional responses
  8. Don't send mail or post comments solely to point out other people's errors in typing or spelling
  9. Remember that whoever reads your content is a human being whose culture, language, and humour have different points of reference from your own. Be especially careful with sarcasm, slang and local acronyms
  10. Consider that a large audience will read your words. That may include your present or your next boss, so take care in what you write.  Remember too, that websites and mailing lists are frequently archived and that your words may be stored for a very long time in a place to which many people have access. Google never forgets
  11. Be professional and careful what you say about others

Originally posted on Tuesday 8th September 2009. Last updated Tuesday 30th March 2010.

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