Writing Style – Capitalization With Titles

Brian’s question: “I was just wondering if the use of lower case in business titles (e.g., vice president finance or president and chief executive officer) on business cards, emails, and letters is common and/or acceptable business practice?”

BizWritingTip response: First, let’s separate business cards from letters and emails. Business cards are usually planned by graphic designers. These people often tend to let design or branding issues override English style rules. Although I am not happy about it, it’s not something I get worked up about.

Now, for letters and emails, the North American style for titles is called “modified down.” What this means is that when in doubt use lower case. However, there are still a number of rules:

1. You should lowercase occupations and descriptive titles.

doctors, nurses, teachers, auditors, lawyers, accountants, engineers, councillors, ministers
The ministers of Health and Transportation met with the premiers of British Columbia and Manitoba.

2. Lowercase titles of officials of companies, unions, sporting, and political organizations.

general manager Susan Sherlock
CUPE secretary Claude Généreux
Widget president Ian Fleming
Widget vice president Jane Moneypenny
head coach Melody Davidson
forward Hayley Wickenheiser

3. Capitalize formal titles when they directly precede the name – if the name is part of the person’s identity.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper
Vice President Joe Biden
Mayor Hazel McCallion

4. Lowercase a title that is set apart from the name by commas.


The prime minister of France, Francois Fillon, was appointed by the president.

Note: These are the guidelines of The Canadian Press Stylebook. If your organization has modified these rules to meet its own needs or beliefs, that’s fine. However, all staff should be aware of your specific guidelines. Consistency is important and saves time in the long run.