The guidelines for capitalization have changed little in the last 75 years, but you would not know it when you read most business communication.

Companies routinely capitalize such terms as Customer, Team, Marketing Manager, and Program, largely because people follow an arbitrary standard or no standard. Besides not conforming to accepted standards of English, they often are inconsistent. They capitalize a word in one sentence and lower case the same word in the next sentence. With no stylebook, dictionary, or language principle to guide them, they are doomed to excessive and unwarranted capitalization.

Proper nouns, the formal names of things, are capitalized. Common nouns, which name broad categories, are not capitalized. And just because something is widely known within the company by a particular name does not make it a proper noun. For example, the senior leadership team is simply a reference to a group of senior executives who are in leadership positions. It does not warrant capitalization. Resist the impulse to upper case a word simply because everyone else does it or because you have a vague sense that the word or name deserves special status. Capitalize something if it meets the following criteria (there will be a few exceptions, but this is a good way to gauge):

  • It is the formal, proper name of something (Chevron Corporation, but the corporation when it stands alone).
  • It has copyright or trademark protection (he reached for a Kleenex).
  • It is a popular name that is well established, usually after decades of use, such as the Bay Area (San Francisco) or the Street (Wall Street).
  • It is a recognized name designating a particular thing (the Oval Office).
  • It is a title that appears immediately before a name (Vice President Judy Jones), but not when it appears after the name (Judy Jones, vice president) or when the title appears alone.

When in doubt, check a resource book. The Associated Press Stylebook is the most commonly used resource book in business and journalism for such questions as usage and capitalization.