Writing Style – To Capitalize or Not to Capitalize

BizWritingTip reader: “In my line of work, I often write letters to committee members and physicians something like this: ‘We are pleased to hear that you accepted Gayle Sawyer into the Internal Medicine Program.’

“My question is should the word program have a capital letter? We have noticed on occasions that program was typed with a cap and without a cap. What is the correct way?“

BizWritingTip response: First, a general answer, the trend in Canada with regard to capitalization is the modified down style. In other words — as always — you should capitalize all official titles, names, religions, languages, races, places, and addresses. However, if you are using shortened versions of titles or are using a proper noun in a plural form, opt for the lower case. The same holds true for job descriptions.

Government of Ontario (proper name)
Ontario government (shortened version)
City of Edmonton (proper name)
cities of Edmonton and Calgary (plural form of proper noun)
Doctor Skipper (title)
doctor (job description)
board (informal reference)

But let’s get back to the question relating to the word “program.” According to The Canadian Press Stylebook, you should capitalize universities and colleges but not their departments.

University of Toronto
McGill medical school
department of engineering
English department
faculty of education

The book also advises to use the lower case for names of courses and programs.

political sciences program
ethics course

Using this information then, you would write: “We are pleased to hear that you accepted Gayle Sawyer into the internal medicine program.”

However, if your organization dictates that certain words must be capitalized — for example, Doctors, Board, Committee, or Region — naturally, I would expect you to follow your organization’s style.