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Web writing wonders: A tutorial on titles for people

What are the rules for proper online citation of individuals’ professional titles?

Capitals count, particularly in job titles. However, what rules apply for web writing, when it comes to capitalizing professional and personal titles?

Professional writers may turn to several sets of style standards, including the Yahoo Style Guide (a primary source of guidelines for online writing), the Associated Press Stylebook (a long-time handbook to print journalism standards) and the Modern Language Association Handbook (a traditional sourcebook for academic and research paper formatting).

For web writing, the Yahoo Style Guide is a popular resource, offering detailed and specific standards for various stylistic formatting issues. For example, the Yahoo Style Guide includes a section specifying rules for capitalization of people’s titles online.

Here is a basic guide to online capitalization of individuals’ personal or professional titles, based on information from the Yahoo Style Guide.

NOTE: Written by this author, this copyrighted material originally appeared on another publisher’s site. That site no longer exists. This author holds all rights to this content. No republication is allowed without permission.

A person’s title should be capitalized, if it appears immediately before his or her name.

In such a case, a personal or professional title may be considered to be part of the proper noun (the person’s name). This Yahoo Style Guide rule of capitalization applies to official positions in government, religious or ecclesiastical hierarchies and corporate or organizational entities.

Fictional and hypothetical examples of this capitalization might include:

  • President Justin B. Potus invited former President Seymour Links to a private dinner at the White House.
  • Chief Justice Stormy Gavil shook hands with International Olympic Committee Chairman Leif Garland.
  • Elementary school Principal Bella Scholari sent a personal memo to club Treasurer Ernie Moneyman.
  • Pope Benedict XVI blessed city Mayor Mia Townsman during her visit to the Vatican City, accompanied by U.S. Marine Corps General Will March.
  • The Reverend Alf Holyfield chaired the interfaith council of churches for the entire city.

The Yahoo Style Guide also specifies that honorific titles, such as “Reverend” (for clergy) and “Honorable” (for a judge) should be preceded by “the” in proper noun (capitalized) usage.

Adapted by this user from Pixabay public domain photo.

A person’s title should not be capitalized, if it appears apart from his or her name.

If a personal or professional title is included without immediately preceding that individual’s proper name, then that title is not capitalized, according to the Yahoo Style Guide. In such usage, the title is used more generically.

Here are a few examples (again, fictional and hypothetical):

  • The chairman of the board appointed a newcomer to serve as liaison to the mayor.
  • Stan Letterman had never served as postmaster general before, but he was ready for the challenge.
  • Once the votes were counted, Crystal Ball was elected president of the public library’s strategic planning committee.
  • My favorite teacher of all time was Mr. Walter Whiz, a trigonometry professor at the local university.

What additional considerations might apply to proper capitalization of people’s titles?

Although popular and familiar titles, such as familial tags, are not clearly specified in the Yahoo Style Guide, a similar pattern of capitalization may be applied to these citations.

Consider these fictional and hypothetical examples:

  • My grandmother was a wonderful storyteller; that’s where Mom heard several tall tales.
  • When Father married Mother, he already had a son, so he was a father before.
  • I call my aunt on my mother’s side Marnie, but her husband is Uncle Jake.
  • My brother is a monk, so he is known as Brother Arnold.

Generally, a common-sense approach may apply to such formal and informal usages.

Titles can be tricky, particularly when it comes to capitalizations, but a clear set of standards (such as the Yahoo Style Guide) can make the clarification much simpler for web writers.

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Writing workshop: What is an oxymoron?

“Oxymoron” is not a dirty word – at least, not usually.

“Oxymoron” is not a disparaging term, an off-color remark or a description of less-than superior intelligence. Instead, an oxymoron is a figure of speech, a literary device and a way of wording descriptions in a striking manner.

What is an oxymoron?

Basically, an oxymoron is an exercise in contrasts, as when two seemingly opposite words are juxtaposed paradoxically to describe something more fully or perhaps even alarmingly.

The word “oxymoron” is derived from two ancient Greek terms: “oxus” and “moros.” “Oxus” meant pointed, or sharp, and “moros” meant blunt or dull.

The correct plural form of “oxymoron” is “oxymora.”

NOTE: Written by this author, this copyrighted material originally appeared on another publisher’s site. That site no longer exists. This author holds all rights to this content. No republication is allowed without permission.

Here are a few examples of oxymora.

Many popularly used phrases actually contain oxymoronic phrases, such as accidentally on purpose, accurate rumors, active retirement, agree to disagree, alone in the crowd, awfully good, bittersweet, cautiously optimistic, civil strife, constant variable, controlled chaos, cruel kindness, definite maybe, dress-casual, dull roar, extremely average, fairly obvious, fine mess, friendly fire, fuzzy logic, genuine imitation, minor disaster, never again, objective opinion, open secret, original copy, pretty ugly, quiet riot, spendthrift and more.

What is an oxymoron? (Pixabay public domain photo)
Oxymora are frequently found in classic literature.

Skilled wordsmiths have traditionally employed the oxymoron as a literary device.

For example, in William Shakespeare’s tragic drama, Romeo and Juliet, the heroine utters these famous oxymoronic words: “Good night, good night! Parting is such sweet sorrow, that I shall say good night till it be morrow” (Act II, Scene 2).

John Donne crafted these oxymoronic phrasings in his poetic work, Devotions Upon Urgent Occasions: “O, miserable abundance, O, beggarly riches!”

American classic novelist Herman Melville penned these lines in his masterpiece work, Moby Dick: “There are some enterprises in which a careful disorderliness is the true method.”

Oxymora often appear in advertising, corporate and product names.

Although product promoters may choose to tag the items they market with oxymora to grab potential buyers’ attention, oxymora more often seem to draw skepticism instead.

Consider these examples of oxymora used in product names, titles and descriptions: Advanced BASIC, authentic reproduction, baby grand piano, freezer burn, graphite woods (golf clubs), Hell’s Angels, icy hot, instant classic, jumbo shrimp, living dead, old news, relaxation exercise, student teacher, and virtual reality.

Many book titles, television show names and movie titles have included oxymoronic phrases, such as Back to the Future, Eyes Wide Shut, The King of Queens, Little Big Man, Slumdog Millionnaire, The Little Giant, True Lies, and Urban Cowboy.

Occasionally, oxymora may occur unintentionally and ironically.

Perhaps somewhat surprisingly, speakers and writers often use oxymora without meaning to do so.  Some of the most pointed examples of unintentional oxymoron use might include airline schedules, budget deficit, butthead, corporate conscience, disaster preparedness, free trade, government efficiency, holy war, marital bliss, military intelligence, soft porn and more.

The oxymoron is essentially word-crafting in contrasts – no sure bet, but a wicked good way to work words.

Adapted by this user
 from public domain image

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