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I hope you find my writing and business tips and observations useful. My business and blog are dedicated to helping businesses communicate clearly and reach their potential. Read, subscribe to my newsletter, enjoy! Tash

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What is title case?

Style guides and related documents sometimes specify a system of capital letter use.

Word processing packages often give four styles to choose from:

  • all lower case
  • ALL UPPER CASE
  • Title Case
  • Sentence case

The first two are fairly self-explanatory but here is a definition of the other two common case styles.

Title case – traditionally used for the titles of everything (books, plays, movies, etc), title case has a capital letter for the start of every significant word – where words like and, of, the and a are not counted as significant. {If every word begins with a capital letter, we call it start case.}
The Little House on the Prairie
One Flew Over the Cuckoo Nest
Breakfast at Tiffany’s

Sentence case – just like you use in most sentences, only the first word and any proper nouns start with a capital letter.
The little house on the prairie
One flew over the cuckoo’s nest
Breakfast at Tiffany’s

Sentence case is the default now for most writing, including headings.

Making your sentences effective

Put a few words together and you have a sentence; put some carefully chosen words together and you have an effective sentence. And effective sentences have much more power in communicating a message and helping your business.

If you look at two sentences saying the same thing, there often is not a right or wrong version. For example, ‘Tash is a professional writer based in Australia’ and ‘Based in Australia, Tash is a professional writer’ are both perfectly good sentences.

However, one form of a sentence may well be more effective in a particular context. Think about the purpose of the sentence – is it an instruction, a description, an inducement or an explanation? An explanation or instruction needs to be as clear as possible while an inducement may be effective with a hint of mystery.

When reading one of your sentences (or comparing multiple versions of a sentence), the following list may help you determine which is the most effective for your purpose.

  • clarity – can the sentence be easily understood on the first read?
  • meaning – does the sentence give the correct meaning? Mixing pronouns, making it too long, over using punctuation and inappropriate word use can all obscure the meaning
  • flow – does the sentence move smoothly or are there bits that break concentration and flow? Of course, a deliberate break in flow can emphasise a point, but generally a smooth flow is your aim. Flow with the surrounding sentences is also important
  • congruent – do all the words join into one unit that works logically? do all the words seem to belong there?
  • concise – does every word deserve its place in the sentence? If in doubt, try the sentence without that word and see if it is more effective
  • prominence – are key words and ideas shown as the most important? Generally, the words at the start and finish of a sentence carry the most weight so that’s where key words are placed for greatest effect

When testing your sentences against this list rememebr that reading them out loud can be a very useful tool – your tongue and ear will pick up issues your eyes may miss.

Short and sweet

Do you remember writing essays at school where you had to make up content to fill the required word count? Do you prefer to read a long book over a short one?

In business and website writing, the clichés ‘short and sweet’ and ‘less is best’ are better options than writing a lot for the sake of writing.

Why keep text short?

Lots of pages are flicked not read

Long documents intimidate

  • people are busy and want to get the information fast
  • it tends to be clearer and simpler
  • it looks less intimidating so more inviting to read
  • it is easier and quicker to proof read!

Keeping it short means short words, short sentences, short paragraphs and short result.

So ‘about’ instead of ‘in respect of’; ‘Accountants advise businesses’ rather than ‘business get advice and recommendations from people experienced with accounting’; and ‘stocktake sale’ rather than ‘reduced prices at the end of season to reduce our stock levels’.

Of course, short in the extreme is not the answer either. I use the idea of ‘if it can be done with fewer words, then do it’ rather than making everything short.

When keeping text short, remember

  • it must make sense
  • all critical information must be included
  • keep it easy to read and suited to your audience (for example, ‘because’ is actually longer than ‘due to’ but is used more commonly in speech so is often the better choice)
  • avoid jargon your readers won’t know

Which punctuation mark do I use?

Sometime when using quotation marks at the end of a sentence or phrase, it would seem that two punctuation marks are required (one for the quote and one for the sentence).

However, you only ever use one punctuation mark, whether it is a full stop, exclamation mark, question mark, or anything else, at the end of a sentence.

In order to know which one to use, consider which is more powerful and use that one.

Some examples:

The teacher yelled out ‘Quiet!’
Did you say ‘John will fix my car’?
Someone might wonder ‘why did he choose that colour?’