by Sarah Anderson, Editor
Based on my years of editing spiritual material, which is how I started my career, I have come to believe that excessive capitalization drains a writer’s words of their real meaning. Christian writers, for example, in striving to be respectful, capitalize not just the word God, but also the pronouns referring to God and too often, many adjectives, as well. Spirituality and spiritual growth authors tend to capitalize any word that to them represents a higher concept or God: Universe, Gratitude, Divine Love, Universal Mind, Consciousness.
Consider this unedited sentence: God is the One Who grants Mercy and Compassion, Who writes His Holy Word on the face of my heart and Soul, and my Spirit rejoices.
My head is bobbing up and down—how about yours?
“But holy books capitalize lots of words!” you may be thinking. However, if you look closely, you will see that the capitalization has no consistency. Excessive capitalization seems to be an artifact from the distant past of the Bible. There have been fashions in reverential capitalization throughout the centuries, and it is out of fashion, now. One modern bible was published without all the capitalization.
I fully understand that many spiritual writers I work with are concerned about being unintentionally disrespectful if they do not capitalize terms referring to God or words used in lieu of God. Others express a need to make sure readers know they are not just, for example, talking about the soul—they are talking about The Soul. However, the meaning needs to come across in the writing, not merely through adding a capital letter.
The other negative impact of excessive capitalization is that it spreads. It takes over. Once you decide to capitalize a certain word, you begin to wonder what else you should capitalize to maintain consistency. If you capitalize Light as an attribute of God, wouldn’t it be consistent to capitalize Love? What about Grace, Gratitude, and Compassion? Or Ultimate Truth and Infinite Love? Or Soul, Spirit, Truth, and the like.
What to do?
When I edit spiritual and religious books, I refer to the Christian Writer’s Manual of Style, which, like the Chicago Manual of Style, recommends minimal capitalization of religious terms, or “down” style. It provides comprehensive lists of terms found in spiritual and religious material, indicating which need to be capitalized and which do not. The book addresses the terminology of all the major religions, as well as capitalization of (or not) of abstract concepts, such as love and truth, when they have been personified.
Most important, though, I work with the author to make decisions regarding capitalization that are unique to the message of the manuscript. You may have other terminology you want to capitalize, such as a technique or a concept that you developed. The idea is not to let capital letters distract the reader’s eye and attention.
My advice is to think carefully about your capitalization decisions, and keep them thoughtful and sparing. Remember that “down” style is the trend in modern publishing. Older spiritual/religious books and especially books that have not been professionally edited can be good guides to what not to do with your capitalization.
Sarah Anderson is a freelance editor and writer, experienced in fiction and nonfiction.