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How to Use Capitalization in a Letter

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  • 0:04 Capitalization
  • 0:36 Salutations
  • 2:05 The Body
  • 3:00 The Closing
  • 3:43 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

Capitalization rules are important parts of successful letter writing. In this lesson, we'll see how words should be capitalized in a letter and look at some common examples.

Capitalization

One skill young people will need today as they enter the professional world is good letter-writing etiquette. You may be struggling to remember the last time you wrote a letter, but the same rules actually apply to your e-mails. Believe it or not, people are judging your e-mails to determine how professional and polite you are. So it's important to know how to write a good letter and the rules that go along with it, including those for capitalization. The rules are important, with a capital I…well technically a lower case i. But still, the rules matter.

Salutations

Your average letter (or e-mail) can be broken down into three basic components. First is the salutation, or the greeting. So what gets capitalized in the salutation? To start, the first letter of the first word should be capitalized, just as with any sentence. In addition, nouns and proper nouns are usually capitalized, including professional titles like doctor, professor, or even sir/madam. So properly capitalized salutations might look like these:

Dear Professor, etc.

Greetings Mr. Smith and Father Johnson, etc.

Attention Colleagues, etc.

Now, it's important to understand that these rules are not always set in stone and can change depending on the situation. For example, the rules are less strict when writing an informal letter or e-mail. For example, if writing to friends, it may not be necessary to capitalize all nouns, only proper nouns and names. This makes the letter feel more informal. However, that's definitely something you want to avoid when dealing with a formal letter. Capitalization of the nouns helps formal letters feel more professional and less familiar. Some places ask that you capitalize every word in the salutation of a formal professional letter, such as a cover letter. In general, however, we only capitalize every word when using established phrases like ''To Whom It May Concern''. In this case, you capitalize ''To Whom It May Concern'' because you're using that phrase as a proper noun, in place of someone's name.

The Body

After the salutation comes the letter itself, which we call the body. The capitalization rules for the body of the letter are the exact same as the normal rules for capitalization. In general, the following words should be capitalized:

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