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Research Reasons for Avoiding All Caps

I have a faculty member who puts all Assignment, Discussion, and Content Page titles in all caps. In terms of netiquette, this is discouraged. I find it personally distracting and more difficult to read (maybe trying to focus on too much at one time??), but I cannot find any adequately cited resources that provide convincing arguments regarding best practice. Can anyone help me out? 

Thanks!!

50 Replies

Good points from jonesn16@nku.edu‌ and nsmalley@fsw.edu‌, I wondered about dyslexia as well. People need to focus less on how cool the content looks or personal preference and shoot more for providing importance and context to what the reader is looking at. 

In most arguments I've found while researching this, use of all caps in titles, should be accompanied with letter spacing and kerning. Since the instructor cannot do this for titles and Canvas is not accounting for this in the design, it should probably be avoided. That and mentions of issues with screen readers, filling out space on the screen etc, it would seem best to use Title Case, to make things easier to read.

No one should use all caps throughout their content it reduces the importance and makes it harder to read. I tried not to copy and paste content from somewhere else, but now I can't resist. The example below highlights why all caps should be limited, and how hard it can be to provide emphasis or importance to something if all the surrounding text is in app caps.

All-caps text —meaning text with all the letters capitalized—is best used sparingly.

That doesn't mean you shouldn't use caps. Just use them judiciously. Caps are suitable for headings shorter than one line (e.g., “Table of Authorities”), headers, footers, captions, or other labels. Caps work at small point sizes. Caps work well on letterhead and business cards. Always add letterspacing to caps to make them easier to read, and make sure kerning is turned on.

DON'T CAPITALIZE WHOLE PARAGRAPHS. THIS HABIT IS ENDEMIC TO LAWYERS, BUT IT'S ESPECIALLY COMMON IN CONTRACTS. MANY LAWYERS SEEM TO THINK THAT CAPITALIZATION COMMUNICATES AUTHORITY AND IMPORTANCE. “HEY, LOOK HERE, I'M A LAWYER! I DEMAND THAT YOU PAY ATTENTION TO THIS!” BUT A PARAGRAPH SET IN ALL CAPS IS VERY HARD TO READ. IT'S EVEN WORSE IN BOLD. AS THE PARAGRAPH WEARS ON, READERS FATIGUE. INTEREST WANES. HOW ABOUT YOU? DO YOU ENJOY READING THIS? I DOUBT IT. BUT I REGULARLY SEE CAPITALIZED PARAGRAPHS IN LEGAL DOCUMENTS THAT ARE MUCH LONGER THAN THIS. DO YOUR READERS A FAVOR. STOP CAPITALIZING WHOLE PARAGRAPHS.

All-caps paragraphs are an example of self-defeating typography. If you need readers to pay attention to an important part of your document, the last thing you want is for them to skim over it. But that's what inevitably happens with all-caps paragraphs because they're so hard to read.

All caps | Typography for Lawyers 

That's totally fair. I've been struggling with instructors who use all caps throughout their text, not just in titles, so that caused me to misread cfelton's original post. I suppose another question is - does typing the title of an assignment in all caps productively increase emphasis when the title is already substantially larger than the body text and a different color? I'd be interested to see more about how Instructure arrived at those design choices.

I find it funny that my tag, typed in ALL CAPS, gets reformatted into all lowercase.

Community Member

I'm curious as to how often the screenreader issue is an issue. That would be the only bit that would make me hesitant to use all caps for titles. I like your reference on readability jonesn16@nku.edu‌ but the arguments for ignoring the caps lock key strays from the initial use case. It's just about someone using it for title / header emphasis. You would want it to take more space and it would serve as contrast to the mixed-case body of the text so emphasis would be increased. Interesting discussion everyone. #ALLCAPS

I had no idea about screen reader issues with all-caps. Thanks for the insight!

Learner II

This is common knowledge I've worked with as a designer, but your question prompted me to actually try and find research. This article called It’s a Myth That All Capital Letters Are Inherently Harder to Read does the best job laying out the research about this question, and includes citations of research it relies on. I would say the title is a bit misleading, though. Here's the short version of the article: there is nothing intrinsic to the use of all capitals versus mixed-case that makes them inherently more difficult to read. However, text in all-caps is more difficult because our eyes are more familiar with mixed case. If we had all grown up and gone through school learning to read in all-caps, the reverse would be true. 

This still provides you some strong arguments for telling this instructor ignore the caps lock key, even without invoking netiquette:

  • We will have a harder time reading their text because we are culturally used to mixed-case text.
  • Visually, all-caps takes up more screen space — the All caps wikipedia article cites Miles Tinker in the "Readability" section, indicating that it takes up 35% more space on a printing surface (and I feel safe extrapolating that to a web page). This creates more visual cognitive load because more of what the student sees is now covered in text. Let me know if you need citations for cognitive load studies in regards to text on screen, as this is much more researched than specifically capitalization usage.
  • Using all-caps denies you expressive power. Capitalization is another way to emphasize a point, similar to using bold or italics. IF ALL OF YOUR TEXT IS ALREADY BEING EMPHASIZED THROUGH CAPITALIZATION, USING BOLD DOES FAR LESS THAN IT WOULD IN MIXED-CASE TEXT.
Community Member

Using all caps is not just a visual preference. In terms of web design and accessibility, you should use all caps sparingly. Its fine for some titles, but it can be more difficult to read. Some fonts are better with caps than others. Spacing also helps readability. In modules, I believe it is very difficult to read caps. Also, screen readers may read capitalized letters one at a time, so it is unaccommodating to those who have vision impairments. It can also be difficult for those that are dyslexic. I have 20/20 vision, and I find reading all caps difficult when used for more than a three words.

SUMMARY: YOU SHOULD USE ALL CAPS SPARINGLY BECAUSE THE LETTERS "FUSE" TOGETHER AND SCREENREADERS MAY READ ONE CAPITAL LETTER AT A TIME, SO IT CAN BE FRUSTRATING FOR ALL. SEE? 

 

Writing readable content (and why All Caps is so hard to read)  

Letter case and text legibility in normal and low vision - ScienceDirect 

navigation - (How) does capitalization affect readability - User Experience Stack Exchange 

Making Information Accessible – Dyslexia Friendly Style Guide « Dyslexia Association of Ireland 

Making Accessible Links: 15 Golden Rules For Developers 

Typefaces for dyslexia | BDA Technology 
Dyslexia Font and Styles 

How Letterspacing Can Make All Caps Easier to Read 

http://www.dyslexia.ie/information/computers-and-technology/making-information-accessible-dyslexia-f...

Poking around at New York Times last night, I noticed that the authors' names are in all-caps, which I had never noticed before. But it seemed good as I looked at it / thought about it.

Community Member

Our district uses all caps for the names of employees in Canvas. I don't feel like the names are being yelled. I feel like the purpose of formatting is to convey meaning more easily and that would apply here. I can quickly distinguish between the teachers and students. Titles and headers would potentially benefit as well. It stands out and, as laurakgibbs pointed out, titles/labels aren't that same as written speech. 

I read those with books on tape, so of course I am oblivious about capitalization, ha ha. 

One of my students told me he liked doing the characters' inner thoughts in italics because that's how George Martin did it in his books... but since I have only listened to the books on tape, I had no idea that was a George Martin style thing!