A Short Word on ALL CAPS

The use of ALL CAPS in electronic documents and missives is generally considered to slow reading speed[1][2] [3](impacting the usability and readability of text) and to be interpreted as “shouting” at the reader[4]. However, ALL CAPS seems to continue to be in common usage in legal documents throughout the internet. It is worth taking a brief look at the history of this practice to understand it better.

The use of ALL CAPS in legal documents stems from the requirement that lawyers make particular passages “conspicuous” to ensure that a reasonable person would notice them[5].  Historically, the only way to make text conspicuous on a typewriter was the use of ALL CAPS. However, this approach is not actually required.  Conspicuous, as defined in the Uniform Commercial Code (UCC 1-201b) (https://www.law.cornell.edu/ucc/1/1-201)is:

(A) a heading in capitals equal to or greater in size than the surrounding text, or in contrasting type, font, or color to the surrounding text of the same or lesser size; and

(B) language in the body of a record or display in larger type than the surrounding text, or in contrasting type, font, or color to the surrounding text of the same size, or set off from surrounding text of the same size by symbols or other marks that call attention to the language.”

Clearly there are other options that are less “offensive” and will support the user in reading and comprehending legal materials more quickly. And it’s never too late to change. The US Navy switched from ALL CAPS to mixed case in their messaging system in 2013 after using ALL CAPS since the 1850’s.[6]

[1] How We Read (August 2014) Jason Santa Maria http://alistapart.com/article/how-we-read

[2] Writing Readable Content (And Why ALL CAPS Is So Hard To Read) (November 2011) Marty Friedel https://www.digitalcookie.com.au/blog/writing-readable-content-and-why-all-caps-is-so-hard-to-read.html

[3] The Science of Word Recognition Kevin Larson (July 2004) http://www.microsoft.com/typography/ctfonts/wordrecognition.aspx

[4] How capital letters became internet code for shouting (April 2014) Alice Robb, NewStatesman http://www.newstatesman.com/sci-tech/2014/04/how-capital-letters-became-internet-code-shouting

[5] A Quick Note on Conspicuous Text, also known as ALL CAPS (August 2012)Luis Villa http://lu.is/blog/2012/08/19/a-quick-note-on-conspicuous-text-also-known-as-all-caps/

[6] US Navy Adjusts to the times;ditches its ALL CAPS message format (June 2013) Ed Payne http://www.cnn.com/2013/06/13/us/navy-all-caps/index.html