In addition to the first word in a sentence, the following are generally the only words which should be capitalized.
Proper nouns—a specific individual name: Kalamazoo.
Proper adjectives—an adjective derived from a proper noun: Romance languages (derived from the proper noun Roman).
Common nouns only when used as part of a specific name: Kanley Chapel, Waldo Library (otherwise lowercase chapel, library).
Common adjectives only when used as part of a specific name: Brown and Gold Room (otherwise lowercase brown and gold).
The following are the only common nouns which should be capitalized in publications and correspondence of Western Michigan University.
Alumni Association—Capitalize only when it refers to the WMU Alumni Association.
Board of Trustees—Capitalize only when it refers to the WMU Board of Trustees.
University—Capitalize only when it refers exclusively to Western Michigan University.
Used in text—In text, titles are capitalized only if they precede the name of the individual. A title following the name of an individual or a title by itself is not capitalized.
Capitalize: ...President John M. Dunn spoke at the...
Do not capitalize: ...John M. Dunn, president, spoke at the... The president spoke at the...
In text, it is preferable for the title to follow the name and, therefore, the title would not be capitalized. This is especially true of titles consisting of more than one word. For example, it is acceptable to use either "President John M. Dunn" or "John M. Dunn, president." However, "John Doe, director of alumni services," should be used in text rather than "Director of Alumni Services John Doe."
Some words identifying occupations or professions are pseudo titles and should not be capitalized even if they precede the name. Do not capitalize "attorney Jane Doe" or "pianist John Doe."
Titles are not capitalized when used in conjunction with the name of an office, department or program. Do not capitalize the title in "Jane Doe, dean of the College of Fine Arts" or "Jane Doe, College of Fine Arts dean."
Used in a list—When used in a directory listing or other similar situations, the title is capitalized whether it precedes the name, follows the name, or appears in tabular form.
Used in an address—When used as part of an address, the title is capitalized, whether it appears in text or block address form. See addresses.
Examples: For more information, contact John Doe, Director of Alumni Relations, Western Michigan University, 1903 W Michigan Ave, Kalamazoo MI 49008-5404 USA.
For more information
Director of Alumni Relations
Western Michigan University
1903 W Michigan Ave
Kalamazoo MI 49008-5404 USA
Offices and departments
The names of offices and departments at WMU are capitalized only when the full, official name is used.
- Office of the Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs
- Department of Biological Sciences
- School of Music
- College of Health and Human Services
- Division of Intercollegiate Athletics
- Light Center for Chinese Studies
Do not capitalize
- provost’s office, academic affairs, the office
- biological sciences, the department
- the school, music school
- health and human services, the college
- intercollegiate athletics, athletics, the division
- the center, the institute
Some names of offices, departments, scholarships or programs contain proper nouns and are always capitalized when the proper noun is included. The full name of the alumni center is the Harold A. and Beulah J. McKee Alumni Center. You should also capitalize McKee Alumni Center, because it contains the proper noun McKee. However, alumni center, by itself, is not capitalized.
Majors, academic programs and degrees
Except for languages, such as English, French and Japanese, the names of academic disciplines, majors, minors, programs and courses of study are not proper nouns and should not be capitalized. Example: She majored in integrated supply management and German.
Academic degrees are capitalized only when the full name of the degree is used, such as Bachelor of Arts or Master of Social Work. General references, such as bachelor’s, master’s or doctoral degree, are not capitalized. Use an apostrophe (possessive) with bachelor’s degree and master’s degree, but not in Bachelor of Arts or Master of Science. Do not use an apostrophe with associate degree or doctoral degree. Do not capitalize the major specialty.
Examples (all correct)
- Ph.D. in interdisciplinary health sciences, M.S. in computer science, B.A. in English
- integrated supply management program, English program
- Bachelor of Science in mathematics, Bachelor of Arts in English
- bachelor's degree in business administration, master's degree in English, doctoral degree in chemistry, doctorate in chemistry
The word "program" is part of relatively few official names at the University. The word program is not capitalized simply because it is preceded by a proper noun. Example: Medallion Scholarship program.
Salutation for form letters
Form letters are addressed to groups. The salutation should, therefore, be plural. Capitalize key words, lower case articles and conjunctions, and end with a colon. Example: "Dear Parents and Family Members:"
Do not capitalize
- administration, the administration, administrator
- alumna, alumnus, alumnae, alumni
- board, the board
- chair, the chair
- committee, the committee, our committee
- college, the college, our college
- department, the department, our department
- director, directors, the directors
- emerita, emeritus, emeritae, emeriti
- faculty, faculty member(s), member(s) of the faculty
- student, students, student body
- trustee, trustees, the trustees
by Chelsea Lee
Dear Style Experts,
I am writing a paper in APA Style, and I have a question about the capitalization of a specific word. Can you tell me how to capitalize it? Also, I need to know what the proper APA Style spelling of the word is. Thanks for your help!
— Wally in Washington, DC
Your first stop in answering questions about the capitalization or spelling of a specific word in an APA Style paper should be the dictionary. APA uses Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (2005) as its standard reference for capitalization and spelling, along with the APA Dictionary of Psychology for psychology-related terms. Along with the guidance provided in the Publication Manual (see pp. 101–104 for capitalization rules), follow the capitalization and spelling you see in those dictionaries for words in your APA Style paper. If more than one option for capitalization and spelling is provided, use the first entry.
Now, you might wonder, why is it helpful to look up a word in a dictionary if you want to know how to capitalize it and not just how to spell it? Well, it’s helpful because the dictionary tells you whether a word is a proper noun (i.e., a specific person, place, or thing), and proper nouns are capitalized in English and therefore in APA Style (see Publication Manual sections 4.16 and 4.18). Their opposite, regular or “common” nouns (which refer to general persons, places, or things), are lowercase in English and thus in APA Style as well.
What to Capitalize
Here are some examples of different types of (capitalized) proper nouns, along with some (lowercased) regular or common noun corollaries:
Proper noun example
Common noun example
Author or person
Freud, Skinner, von Neumann
the author, the investigator, the mathematician
Company, institution, or agency
American Psychological Association, University of Washington, Department of Sociology
the association, a university, a sociology department
Advil, Xerox, Prozac (brand names)
ibuprofen, photocopy, fluoxetine (generic names)
Test or inventory
Beck Depression Inventory, Child Behavior Checklist
a depression inventory, a behavior checklist
Website or database
PsycINFO, Facebook, Survey Monkey, Internet
a database, a social media page, a website, online
Periodical (journal, magazine, newspaper)
Journal of Counseling Psychology, Time, The Washington Post
a psychology journal, a magazine, a newspaper
Software, program, or app
SPSS, Mplus, Davis’s Drug Guide for iPhone
statistical software, a computer program, a mobile app drug guide
Legal materials (statutes, acts, codes, bills, regulations, constitutions, etc.; see also PM Appendix 7.1 and the Legal Bluebook)
Americans With Disabilities Act, FDA Prescription Drug Advertising Rule, U.S. Constitution
antidiscrimination laws, drug advertising legislation, a constitution
Along with the proper nouns listed in the table above, you should also always capitalize:
- the first word of a sentence,
- the first word after a colon when what follows the colon is an independent clause,
- factor names in a factor analysis (see section 4.20),
- most nouns when they are followed by numerals or letters (e.g., Table 1, Figure 2, Panel A; see section 4.17), and
- words in an interaction when there is a multiplication sign between them (e.g., Age x Sex effect; see section 4.20).
What Not to Capitalize
This section provides some examples of what not to capitalize—especially the types of words that writers tend to capitalize by mistake. Note that proper nouns (such as personal names) within these terms usually retain their capitalization.
five-factor personality model, associative learning model
Theory or philosophy
behaviorism, psychoanalytic theory, Freudian theory
Therapy or technique
client-centered therapy, cognitive behavior therapy
object permanence, confirmation bias, correlation
major depressive disorder, depression, Alzheimer’s disease, obsessive-compulsive disorder
null hypothesis, experimental hypothesis
Condition or group in an experiment
control group, experimental group, no-information group
Variable (for factors in a factor analysis, see above)
the age variable, the effect of gender
Statistical procedure or test
analysis of variance, t test, standard deviation
social psychology, nursing, English, Spanish, business
Law (scientific; for legal, see above table)
law of symmetry, Newton’s three laws of motion
Again, the dictionary corroborates this style of capitalization, so if you have questions, start there.
Capitalization is a big topic, and this post covers only some of the basics. For more on the capitalization of specific words in APA Style, including copious specifics, exceptions, and examples, see the Publication Manual (pp. 101–104). In future posts, we will cover capitalization in author names, source titles, the reference list, abbreviations, and more. If there is an area of capitalization that you would like to hear more about, please leave us a note in the comments section.
More Posts on Capitalization