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Language Matters: Capitalization - Look at it Case by Case

Language Matters: Capitalization - Look at it Case by Case

Most of the time, we know when to use a capital letter: the names of people and places, the first word of a sentence, and when citing a direct quote “Xxxxx”. However, there are some common areas where many writers run into confusion about using capital letters. Knowing when to capitalize increases the presentation value of a manuscript, so we’ve provided below a list of recommendations for some of these common issues and the correct use of capitalization in these cases.


1. If a sentence begins with a word or symbol that cannot be capitalized, try and rearrange the sentence to avoid confusion for the reader. This occurs often when discussing gene names.

  • eng2 expression was upregulated during sporulation. ⇒ During sporulation, eng2 expression was upregulated.


2. Capitalize terms that use a proper noun, such as the person it has been named after. However, do not capitalize if the term is used as a derivative or adjective. Disease names are often confused in this way.

  • Down’s syndrome, Noble agar, Parkinson’s disease (but parkinsonian tremor)
  • Gram stain (but gram-negative bacteria)
  • Southern blotting but western blot analysis (In immunohistochemical analysis, only Southern is capitalized because it is named after a person)


3. In general, the points of a compass and other descriptive terms should not be capitalized unless the region has become accepted as a proper noun.

  • eastern Europe, western songbirds, southeastern Asia
  • North Africa, Southeast Asia, Central America, North Temperate Zone, Oriental culture


4. In relation to place names, the article “the” should only be capitalized for The Gambia and The Bahamas and not for the Netherlands or the Philippines. Similarly, when using ‘the’ in front of the name of a research group or journal, only capitalize ‘the’ if it is in the official name.


5. Capitalize geographic terms such as ‘river’ but names with non-English equivalents do not need the added English term.

  • Nile River, Mount Everest
  • The Sahara not the Sahara Desert
  • Fujiyama or Mount Fuji not Fujiyama Mountain or Mount Fujiyama


6. Company names, products and brands should be capitalized in accordance with their appearance.

  • GenBank, Agilent 2100 Bioanalyzer, CHROMagar® Candida


by Scott Wysong, Quality Control Editing Team