As a technical writer, who must often refer to such things as geographic locations, company names, temperature scales, and processes or apparatuses named after people, you must learn to capitalize consistently and accurately. What follows are ten fundamental rules for capitalization. Check out the first rule. It gets fumbled in papers all the time.

Capitalize the names of major portions of your paper and all references to figures and tables. Note: Some journals and publications do not follow this rule, but most do.

my Introduction Airshaft 3
see Figure 4 Table 1
Appendix A Graph

Capitalize the names of established regions, localities, and political divisions.

Wheeling Township the French Republic
Lancaster County the United Kingdom
the Wheat Belt the Arctic Circle

Capitalize the names of highways, routes, bridges, buildings, monuments, parks, ships, automobiles, hotels, forts, dams, railroads, and major coal and mineral deposits.

Highway 13 Route 1
Michigan Avenue the White House
Alton Railroad the Statue of Liberty
Herrin No. 6 seam the Queen Elizabeth

Capitalize the proper names of persons, places and their derivatives, and geographic names (continents, countries, states, cities, oceans, rivers, mountains, lakes, harbors, and valleys).

Howard Pickering Great Britain
Chicago British
New York Harbor Gulf of Mexico
Rocky Mountains Florida
Aleutian Islands the Aleutian low

Capitalize the names of historic events and documents, government units, political parties, business and fraternal organizations, clubs and societies, companies, and institutions.

the Second Amendment the Civil War
Congress Bureau of Mines
Republicans Ministry of Energy

Capitalize titles of rank when they are joined to a person’s name, and the names of stars and planets. Note: The names earth, sun, and moon are not normally capitalized, although they may be capitalized when used in connection with other bodies of the solar system.

Professor Walker President Spanier
Milky Way Venus

Capitalize words named after geographic locations, the names of major historical or geological time frames, and most words derived from proper names. Note: The only way to be sure if a word derived from a person’s name should be capitalized is to look it up in the dictionary. For example, “Bunsen burner” (after Robert Bunsen) is capitalized, while “diesel engine” (after Rudolph Diesel) is not. Also, referring to specific geologic time frames, the Chicago Manual of Style says not to capitalize the words “era,” “period,” and “epoch,” but the American Association of Petroleum Geologists says that these words should be capitalized. I choose to capitalize them, as those who write in the geological sciences should by convention.

Coriolis force Fourier coefficients
English tweeds Walker Circulation
Hadley cell Petri dish
Boyle’s law Russell volumeter
Planck’s constant Klinkenberg effect
Middle Jurassic Period Mesozoic Era
the Industrial Revolution the Inquisitio

Capitalize references to temperature scales, whether written out or abbreviated.

10 oF Fahrenheit degrees
22 oC Celsius degrees

Capitalize references to major sections of a country or the world.

the Near East the South

Capitalize the names of specific courses, the names of languages, and the names of semesters.

Anatomy 20 Russian
Spring semester 2009 Fall term, 2006

Common Capitalization Errors

Just as important as knowing when to capitalize is knowing when not to. Below, I set forth a few instances where capital letters are commonly used when they should not be. Please review this advice carefully, in that we all have made such capitalization errors. When in doubt, simply consult a print dictionary.

Do not capitalize the names of the seasons, unless the seasons are personified, as in poetry (“Spring’s breath”). (It is, of course, highly unlikely that you would personify a season in a technical paper.)

spring winter

Do not capitalize the words north, south, east, and west when they refer to directions, in that their meaning becomes generalized rather than site-specific.

We traveled west. The sun rises in the east.

In general, do not capitalize commonly used words that have come to have specialized meaning, even though their origins are in words that are capitalized.

navy blue india ink
pasteurization biblical

Do not capitalize the names of elements. Note: This is a common capitalization error, and can often be found in published work. Confusion no doubt arises because the symbols for elements are capitalized.

tungsten nitrogen
oxygen californium

Do not capitalize words that are used so frequently and informally that they have come to have highly generalized meaning.

north pole big bang theory
arctic climate midwesterner