Make your words stronger, not louder

“We’ll never change the name,” he said. “It’s that simple. NEVER — you can use caps.”

This perfectly written quote originally appeared in USA Today in 2013 (repeated in this month’s The Atlantic), in which the owner of the Washington Redskins, Daniel Snyder, discusses his openness to changing his team’s name.

Hats off to the reporter, Erik Brady. Professional journalists recognize that putting a word in all capital letters is a tool of the weak writer, that there are few occasions to do so well, and even fewer editors who will let it pass. When Brady caught such an opportunity, he ran with it, and made an untold number of readers chuckle, myself included.

But don’t you try it.

The second I see an email subject line written in all caps, I know either it’s spam or I’ve drawn the ire of someone who doesn’t write well. When I see a word capitalized for emphasis within a text, I picture the speaker yelling, standing too close, smelling of hot dog juice.

There are other equally bad ways to emphasize a specific word within a text. You can bold it or increase the font size, or use multiple bold, 18-point exclamation points. Any of these strategies is the writing equivalent of honking your horn in traffic: it will catch someone’s attention, sure, but they will be at least mildly annoyed at you for going that route, and they’ll wonder if you’re actually 8.

These tactics will make your words look bigger and louder, but why not use words that are actually stronger instead? You can manipulate the strength of your words and the focus of your reader through brevity, paragraph breaks, and careful word choice. Doing so will get your point across while keeping your reader’s respect.

In the case of the USA Today article, the capitalized NEVER was the right move because it’s exactly what the speaker intended. But few of us ever get that lucky. Don’t try it.



I mean… don’t.

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