Writing Style – Capitalization of Hyphenated Words

BizWritingTip reader: “For headings or titles that contain a hyphenated word, do you capitalize the second word in the compound word? For example, would I write: ‘City of Thunder Bay 2010 By-election’ or ‘City of Thunder Bay 2010 By-Election’? Does the rule work the same way for compound adjectives also?”

BizWritingTip response: When writing a heading or a title, you should capitalize all the elements of the hyphenated words — except for short prepositions (e.g., on, out, to, up, by, at, and of) short conjunctions (or, nor, if, as, but, or and), and articles (the, a or an). Naturally, if an article starts the title, it is capitalized.

Examples (Hyphenated words in headings or titles)
City of Thunder Bay 2010 By-Election
Up-to-Date Report on Housing (To and on are short prepositions.)
The Mid-Winter Snow Shovelling Crisis (Title begins with an article.)
Report on the Mid-Winter Snow Shovelling Crisis (The short proposition and article are not the first word.)

If a hyphenated word appears at the beginning of a sentence, however, capitalize only the first part.

Example (Beginning a sentence with a hyphenated word)
Mid-winter is not a great time for golfers. (The second hyphenated word is not capitalized.)

Writing Style – Capitalization of Names

BizWritingTip reader: “I have a question about the capitalization of names. There is a raging debate in our office about the use of capitalization with a word such as ‘town.’ For example, if someone wrote: ‘The Town is responsible for collecting taxes’ should the ‘t’ be capitalized?”

BizWritingTip response: This is a style issue — not a grammar one. In other words, whatever you do will be considered correct from a grammar perspective. Style is what gives writing consistency.

When I went to school, the guideline was “when in doubt — capitalize the word.” Now, it is the reverse. My favourite style guide for capitalization is the small book CP Caps and Spelling produced by The Canadian Press. This book promotes a modified down style. This means that you capitalize names of departments and agencies of government bodies, companies, and associations only if the full name is included. But you should lowercase common nouns when they appear alone.

Examples (official names)
Government of Ketchup
Town of Salsa
Region of Tabasco
City of Mustard

Examples (not official names)
Relish government
The town
The region
The cities of Salt and Pepper
The company
The department

On a side note: There is an interesting thought in the marketplace today. Using all lower case letters for a company’s name may make the company seem more hip and friendlier to its customers. If you drive through any industrial area today, look at the signs on the buildings. You’ll be surprised at the number of companies whose names no longer start with a capital letter.

However, let’s recap. This is a style issue. If your college, town, department, or government agency decides it wants to make an exception and capitalize a common noun that refers to itself, then that’s fine. “The town is responsible for collecting taxes.” “The Town is responsible for collecting taxes.” Both are correct.

But in the interest of fairness — and in reducing “raging debates,” I believe all organizations should have a short style guide that states their preferences.

Writing Style – Viz. versus i.e.

BizWritingTip reader: “I have recently seen what appears to be a different version of the i.e. guideline. The short form was viz. followed by a group of names or items. ‘There were three people elected to the 2010 board of directors, viz., Mr. Smith, Mr. Hall, and Mr. Kelly.’ I cannot think of any Latin term for this abbreviation.”

BizWritingTip response: The abbreviation “viz.” is from the Latin “videlicet.” It means “namely” or “precisely.” Therefore, the example you provided is correct, and I have seen the word often in academic writing.

However, my feeling is that viz. is a little like saying something is “whiter than white.” The abreviation extends the meaning of i.e. The abbreviation i.e. (from the Latin “id est”) means “that is.” It denotes everything that follows.

Example (correct)
There were three people elected to the 2010 board of directors, i.e., Mr. Smith, Mr. Hall, and Mr. Kelly.

Viz. means “precisely everything that follows.” It emphasizes your exactness.

Example (correct)
There were three people elected to the 2010 board of directors, viz., Mr. Smith, Mr. Hall, and Mr. Kelly.

You would never use viz. if you were referring to examples. It would be better to use e.g. (for example).

Example (correct)
Three people may be elected to the 2010 board of directors, e.g., Mr. Smith, Mr. Hall, and Mr. Kelly.

Although viz. is a stronger abbreviation than i.e., there are a number of readers who might not recognize it. My preference is to stick with i.e. But that’s me!

Note: There is always a period after the abbreviation. And if you were reading it aloud, it is an English language custom to verbally substitute the word “namely” instead of saying “viz.”

Writing Style – Abbreviations: Acronyms and Initialisms

BizWritingTip reader: “In a publication we are currently editing, the first program/service sometimes is written with the first letter of each word capitalized and then the acronym in all caps. At other times, it is written all small caps with the acronym in caps. Which way is correct?”

BizWritingTip reader: It is often easier to shorten a long title by using an abbreviation — a shortened form. Some abbreviations are acronyms; some are initialisms. An acronym is an abbreviation pronounced as a word. It is formed from the first letter of each word.

Examples (acronyms)
AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome)
NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization)

An abbreviation made up a group of initial letters that are each pronounced is called an initialism.

Examples (Initialisms)
CD (compact disc)
YMCA (Young Men’s Christian Association)
a.m. (ante meridian)

Whether you are using an acronym or an initialism, if you know your readers understand the term, there is no need to explain it.

However, if you are introducing a new program or service or have any doubt your reader will know the abbreviated form, it is best to write the name in full (capitalizing the initial letters only) and then follow it with the abbreviation in brackets.

Golf Life Management System (GLMS)

Note: Almost all abbreviations made up single lowercase letters require a period after each initial. But do not put a space after the first period.


Abbreviations made up of all capital letters do not require periods.


Exceptions: Keep the periods in the abbreviations of geographical locations (B.C., U.S.), academic degrees (M.Sc.), expressions (A.D., V.P.), and in the names of products and organizations if the company uses them.


Writing Style – Capitalization With Occupations Versus Titles

I’d like to continue our previous BizWritingTip blog on capitalization with titles and occupations. When a word is a job description, use lower case. When it is a title, use upper case.

We need to hire another writer. (occupation – lower case)
I suggest you contact Professor Jones (title – upper case)

However, when a person’s name follows his or her title but is set off by commas, do not capitalize the title.

Examples (correct)
Our president, Lisa MacLellan, will speak at the conference.
President Lisa MacLellan will speak at the conference.

Here’s another exception to the rules for capitalization: When you are preparing formal minutes or bylaws, or when you are describing processes (i.e., procedures, work instructions, and flow charts), a person’s title is always capitalized.

The president will meet with our new client tomorrow. (regular style – lower case)
The ministers of Education and Health and Long-Term Care met with the premiers of Ontario and Quebec. (regular style – lower case)
The Treasurer’s report was received. (formal minutes – upper case)
The employee’s Manager must approve the application. (procedures manual – upper case)
Scheduler prepares the schedule for the Shipper. (work instruction – upper case).

In addition, some stylebooks recommend that the following titles always be capitalized when they follow a personal name or are used alone:

National Officials: the Prime Minister, Cabinet members (such as the Secretary of State, the Speaker of the House of Commons, and the Attorney General), the heads of government agencies and bureaus (such as the Deputy Minister, or the Commissioner), the Chief Justice, the Ambassador, the Member of Parliament, the Governor General

Provincial Officials: the Premier, the Lieutenant-Governor

Royal Dignitaries: the Queen, the Duke, the Prince of Wales

International Figures: the Pope, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, the President

By the way, some organizations choose to override the rules and capitalize all the job titles of their senior executives. They believe it shows respect. This style is not necessary. However, if it is what your organization wants, don’t fight it. Go with whomever pays your salary.

Writing Style – That

Leah’s question: “Would you please write about the overuse of the word ‘that’? For example, shouldn’t ‘Please read the letter that I wrote’ be better as ‘please read the letter I wrote.’ ”

BizWritingTip response: The use of the pronoun “that” is controversial. Fortunately, it is a style issue rather than a grammar one. In other words, grammatically it doesn’t matter whether you include it or not. It is a matter of personal preference.

Some people insist that in the interest of brevity it should always be removed. (Note: I used “that” to create emphasis around “in the interest of brevity.” This was a personal decision.) Another time, I might write “Some people insist it should always be removed.”

I do usually try to eliminate the word as I think it creates a stronger sentence. However, there are times when “that” is necessary:

1. When it makes your meaning clearer


She admits having read the book the movie was easier to follow. (awkward)
She admits that having read the book the movie was easier to follow.

2. When you want to create emphasis with parallel flow


He is working hard to ensure that everyone understands the reasons behind the decision and that they will support it.

If English is your main language, the guideline is to go by your ear. If the sentence sounds better without it, then remove it. This is a much better rule than saying you should always omit “that.”

If English is not your main language, it’s safer to leave it in than to take it out. As you write and read more, you’ll be able “to hear” when it is right to remove it.


Writing Style – Capitalization With Occupations Versus Titles

BizWritingTip reader: “When you are referring to a person’s title, i.e., nurse, doctor, accountant, etc., when do you capitalize the first letter in their title and when do you not?”

BizWritingTip response: According to The Canadian Press style book, Caps and Spelling, the style for capitalization is “modified down.” This means that occupations and job descriptions are written in the lower case.

We need to hire more nurses.
There is a shortage of doctors.
He has been appointed vice president.
Have you met our accountant Susan Smith?

The way to separate occupations from titles is to determine how you would address someone. You would never say, “Good morning, Investment Counsellor Jones.” Therefore, you know not to capitalize “investment counsellor.”

When you would address someone with his or her title, you capitalize the title. But if you are using the plural form of the title, lowercase it.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper
Mayor McCallion
Monsignor Shields
Sgt. Smith
Dr. Eisen
Councillor Jones
We want to invite premiers Dalton McGuinty and Jean Charest. (The title is plural.)

There are a lot more rules with regard to the capitalization of job titles.


Writing Style – Rules for Numbers

BizWritingTip reader: “I was recently told that in a written document numbers should be displayed in written form for values of nine or less and numerically for values of 10 or larger; is this correct?”

BizWritingTip response: Yes, this is Canadian style. Spell out whole numbers below 10 and use figures for 10 and above.

Example (correct)
Each team has six players on the ice in hockey, but 12 players on the field in football.

But, naturally, there are exceptions to the rule.

Use figures for the following information:

1. Addresses: 2 Queen Street

2. Ages when used alone: Rosemary, 9, was not hurt in the accident.

3. Dates and years: July 1, 2009

4. Decisions, scores, rulings, votes, and odds: The score was 3-1. The odds are 2-1.

5. Page and figure numbers: See figure 3 on page 9.

6. Sequential designations: Chapter 8, RR 3, Grade 4, Highway 9

7. Clock times: We will meet at 6 p.m.

8. Latitude and longitude: 33 degrees south

9. Money amounts when accompanied by a dollar sign: $5, $3 billion (but five dollars)

Are you sorry you asked?


Writing Style – Ms.

BizWritingTip reader: “I was told that it is not correct to add a period after Ms as it isn’t a short form of a word as Mr. is for Mister. Is this correct?”

BizWritingTip response: Yes, Ms. is not actually a short form. It was coined by well-known author Germaine Greer and other feminists in the 1970s to match Mr. Their point was that men and women should be treated equally in the workforce. Mr. does not designate whether a man is married. Why treat a woman differently? People should be judged on how well they do their jobs, not on their marital status.

The Canadian Press style guide for CAPS AND SPELLING recommends a period with Ms. I believe it is because with the period it truly does look similar to Mr.

By the way, I just read on an Internet site that Ms. indicates a “divorcee or a woman past a certain age when the word Miss is too youthful.” Wrong!

According to the Oxford Canadian Dictionary, Ms. (with a period) is “a title prefixed to the name of a woman regardless of her marital status.”

Note: Some women do prefer the term “Mrs.” There is nothing wrong with that. Their wishes should be respected.

Word Choice – Company Name

BizWritingTip reader: “When you close a business letter, does it still need to include the company name typed under the closing line? It seems like it duplicates the letterhead.”

BizWritingTip response: Before letterhead, the courts required companies to put their name somewhere on the document to show they stood behind the correspondence. Most organizations placed it under the closing line.

With the use of letterhead, the custom is outdated. I see very few organizations doing it nowadays. I agree with you. It unnecessarily duplicates information.

Your closing box only needs your name, title, unit or division reference if appropriate, and your phone number if you want the reader to be able to contact you directly.