For more than 30 years, I’ve crafted news stories, reports, research findings, white papers, policies, text books and more.
As a journalist, I’ve written them and edited them, and re-written and re-edited them. I’ve breathed life into their corpses. Sometimes, I’ve dispatched them to an author’s grave and started again.
Often, they’ve involved major conflict and minor triumph. Along the way, I’ve dealt with a cocktail of ego, arrogance, paranoia, and cynicism. And those were the successful projects.
Over decades, I’ve identified the following mock/serious examples. I present these observations as a gentle prod at writers and would-be writers, me included. They offer us an insight into one of the blights on the writing landscape—torturing readers with capital letters.
Hands up who likes speed bumps? Or corrugated roads? Or traffic lights?
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t suggest we do away with rules and checks to make our roads and lives safer. Far from it.
Addicted to the upper case
Here’s the other half of the analogy. Modern writing—legal, government, corporate, academic, financial, business—has a capital problem. It’s the capital itself. We’re addicted to the upper case.
Like most addictions, it’s crept up on us, and we’re in denial. Like most habits, the greater the need, the greater the use, and therefore the greater the denial.
A highway with speed bumps every hundred yards
Look at any major report or document. Reading them is like a thousand mile journey on a highway with speed bumps every hundred yards.
Who’s who on Capital Hill?
Grammar, syntax, capitalisation and good old fashioned style are vexing components of any writing. Everyone knows they could write a Nobel prize-winning book if they just had the time. Curiously, only one of us a year actually does. And you can bet they do it with as few capitals as possible.
Five essential writing values
If you want to perform at the forefront of writing that people read, you might at least make it readable. What follows is a short attempt to unite us. As writers and readers, companies and shareholders, clients and agents, let’s agree on five simple values:
Looking at the last—modesty—let’s identify and reduce, if not eliminate, the upper case vanities that make many of our public documents subjects for a class action in ego.
Don’t we owe our readers readable text?
Sadly, the language and style of significant public documents like legislation and annual reports, have been hijacked by a band of linguistic rogues. They have arrogated to themselves an aspect of language that properly belongs to the reader, not the writer.
As writers, don’t we owe readable text and plain English to our stakeholders, whichever way they vote?
To Capitalise, or not to capitalise? A light-hearted look at Capital Punishment
Unless you are simultaneously No. 1 on the Fortune 500, the Dow Jones, the Nikkei, the FTSI, the Hang Seng, the All Ordinaries, and every other index, it’s unlikely that your claim to being The Company will override that of any other.
You’re proud of your company’s achievements. But inflating its status through unnecessary caps when it might have just lost millions of dollars is sticking your head high above the parapet. The snipers will be waiting for you.
Capitalisation gone mad
Following is a selection of some of the overblown uses of capitals I regularly come across. As a reader of these documents, and as a stakeholder in some of these organisations, I thought this compilation might show capitalisation gone mad.
‘The Company is fortunate to have at its Disposal a Set of Rules known as The Constitution. The Constitution is written by Respected Professionals, often Partners in Leading Law Firms, to ensure only Directors and their Trusted Legal Advisors understand it and can change it.
‘The Board of Directors, or The Board, is a sacred Institution. It is always made up of Directors whose Commitment to The Company usually precedes their feeling for shareholders, who do not generally deserve a capital ‘S’.
‘To underline its importance, The Board is permitted to indulge in Special Resolutions, particularly when it comes to Directors’ and Officers’ Remuneration. The staff get a pay cheque. If they’ve been agreeable, shareholders may receive a dividend.
‘The Board Meeting is a religious ceremony at which Board Papers and Directors’ Reports, prepared by staff or employees, are worshiped.
‘The Chairman is often a Respected Lawyer or a Noted Accountant. In extreme cases, he or she is both. They are revered for their ability to fearlessly pursue The Profit ahead of all other interests.
‘In the unlikely event of a loss (which rarely deserves a mention let alone a capital ’L’ The Chairman is highly skilled in the art of the Strategic Withdrawal to pursue Other Interests. His or her Contribution is always deeply appreciated through the means of a Golden Handshake.
‘Directors aren’t ordinary people. They are highly skilled, respected Titans of Industry. They make Profits measured in Multiples. Sometimes, they are also associated with, though never responsible for, losses.
‘These are sometimes known as Insignificant Earnings Re-adjustments due to forces beyond their control which should be rapidly corrected when the markets see sense and shareholders stop punishing them through pig-headed ignorance.
‘Like voters in a Democracy, shareholders display Wisdom and Prudential Foresight when they concur with the Board. They are are ignorant dolts when they don’t. This applies especially in matters connected to Directors’ Remuneration.
‘Shareholders come in two Classes: Retail and Institutions. Retail is the Board’s way of not having to say mums and dads. Institutions have intrinsic Value; they pay for Liquid Assets which is Technical Nomenclature for lunch.
‘On the other hand, mums and dads are an Administrative Liability by virtue of having to be communicated with from time to time. The Liability is dealt with through the Annual Report.
‘Shares, Securities, Stocks and Options, unlike houses or cars or people, have intrinsic Value, often measured in Cents. Their Value is not diminished for being Ordinary, Fully Paid or of any other Class. These Classes of Securities only Re-balance Capitalisation when they become penny dreadfuls.
‘Always remember that The Chairman, The Board and The Directors are Courageous Entrepreneurs. They have the Insight to Downsize Resource Inefficient Upskilling (training) that ordinary people such as plumbers and coronary specialists undertake for obscure reasons of their own.
‘When your drains overflow or you have a cardiac arrest, always call for The Chairman or a Director.’