Don't Over-Capitalize!

Technical writers capitalize too often. I'm over-generalizing when I say that, but over-capitalization is a problem I see daily in my work as a book editor. It's especially prevalent among authors on Microsoft topics, and the solution lies in distinguishing between proper nouns and terms.

Here's an example sentence with some erroneous capitalization:

Microsoft is the company behind the Azure platform for Cloud Computing.

We capitalize the word Microsoft because it's a proper noun. We learn as children to capitalize the names of specific places, persons, or things. Microsoft is a company, a thing, a specific company, and thus a specific thing. So we capitalize the name.

The logic for capitalizing the name Microsoft leads directly to why we don't capitalize the term company. Because company is a common noun and refers to a class of things, of which Microsoft is one example. 

We capitalize Azure for the same reason as we do Microsoft, because Azure is the name of a specific platform. There is only one Azure platform in the context off Microsoft, so we capitalize its name.

Specific technical terms like Cloud Computing are what seem to throw book authors off the rails. The word company is far too common in everyday speech for anyone to think to capitalize it, but less common and more technical terms somehow trigger the capitalizing reflex. I see a regular stream of Cloud Computing, Business Intelligence, Recovery Models, Backup Types, Tablespaces, Outer Joins, Queries, and more. None of these terms deserve their initial capital, and the sentence earlier should really be written as:

Microsoft is the company behind the Azure platform for cloud computing.

Distinguish between a proper noun and a technical term. That's the key to proper capitalization. Help yourself in making the distinction by asking whether the term you are about to capitalize refers to a specific instance,or to a class of nouns having potentially many instances. We can have many cloud computing platforms, so lower case is the way to go. We can have many recovery models, many backup types, so those terms all get the lowercase treatment as well.

Concept nouns like business intelligence might stymie you at first, but there can be many types of business intelligence. Concept nouns like business intelligence and cloud computing do not really refer to specific places, persons, or things. Leave those nouns lowercase.

Programmers will find the class and object model handy in thinking about proper versus common nouns. If your noun refers to a specific item in a class of items, then it's a proper noun and should be capitalized. Otherwise your noun refers to the class itself, and should be left lowercase.