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ALL CAPS: IS IT EVER OKAY TO USE THEM???

A Man ShoutingLast spring Ethan wrote about an electronic communication policy he hoped to develop for his classes, in order to ward off overly informal and often unnecessary emails from students. Today I want to address a far more specific and—dare I say—menacing trend I’ve seen in email: ALL CAPS.

Sometimes it may be just a word or two. Other times, it might be whole lines of text. In either case, the effect is as if the sender were SHOUTING at you.

Even text that is bold, italicized, and underlined all at once doesn’t begin to approach the in-your-face chutzpah of all caps. Even HTML’s infamous blink tag, which evokes the textual equivalent of a shrieking child, does not convey the same sense of frivolous urgency as all caps.

So my question is this: Is it ever okay to use all caps in email or other online communication?

If you are the National Weather Service, it’s perfectly acceptable to send out a message saying:

A WINTER STORM WARNING REMAINS IN EFFECT UNTIL MIDNIGHT EST
TONIGHT.

Likewise, the many fake Hulks on Twitter get a pass for shouting in all caps.

But what if you’re not the national government or a comic book character? The chances are, then, that all caps are not for you. At least not in any professional context. Or, if you’re a student, not in any email you’d want to send to your professor. All caps require, ironically enough, a light touch, an awareness of exactly how much like SHOUTING they really are. And because electronic communication seems to amplify the slightest ripples in tone, that light touch is incredibly hard to pull off.

But what do you think? Is it ever okay to use all caps? LET US KNOW!!!!

[A Tribute to Everything I Hate photograph courtesy of Flickr user Sebastian Fritzon / Creative Commons License]

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