Sunday 21 February 2016

Caps Lock: How Not to Use It

There is a place for ALL CAPS—in texts, tweets, Facebook posts, and other very informal media—but it has no place in serious writing. When you find your fingers inching towards the Caps Lock key, consider the following alternatives first.

That's my octopus you're fondling!

The Exclamation Point

Yes! An exclamation point automatically ramps up the volume and intensity of a sentence.

  • “Give me the location of the secret recipe! Now!”

But be sure to deploy your exclamation points sparingly—the less often you use them, the more impact they’ll have. And don’t make the mistake of doubling up on them or cramming in extra question marks. As the editors of The Chicago Manual of Style put it when asked about using a question mark and an exclamation point at the same time, “In formal writing, we allow both marks only in the event that the author was being physically assaulted while writing.” Punctuation is there to help, not to carry your sentences for you.


Italics for Emphasis

The last example brings us to our next all-caps alternative: italicization. Italics are a handy way to emphasize a single word within a sentence.

  • Cut the red wire, not the yellow one.
  • That’s my octopus you’re fondling!

They can also suggest shouting or heavy menace.

  • “I’ll never tell you! Never!
  • “You’ll have plenty of time to reconsider after we lock you in the ball pit.
  • Go to hell!

Use Your Vocabulary

Finally, the most effective tool you have in cranking up intensity—and one much better than a boatload of capital letters—is your creativity. Try to think of specific words that convey volume, power, or sense of urgency to the reader.

  • “Stop playing that blasted saxophone!” he roared.
  • “No!” shrieked the ambassador, flinging up her hands. “Not more smooth jazz, I beg you!”

“No!” shrieked the ambassador. “Not more smooth jazz, I beg you!”

An all-caps phrase gives one the unpleasant sensation of BEING SHOUTED AT, and even in dialogue, it jolts readers out of the scene. Rather than conveying drama and high emotions, using Caps Lock merely shows the writer’s lack of imagination.

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