Correct use of small caps at the beginning of a paragraph

Palatine's picture

I've noticed that the first few words - sometimes one, other times 3 or more, are in small caps at the beginning of paragraphs in some of the better books I own. These words in small caps usually appear at the beginning of a chapter (first paragraph of a chapter.)

I'm wondering how many words one should put in small caps. Just the first word? Two? Three or four? Is there a standard, or is it a typographical decision left up to the writer?

krisbrowne42's picture

Is there a colophon in any of those books that might reference a style guide?

Here are some good starting points, though I didn't see anything in them relating to Typography explicitly, may still contain useful information:

The Economist Magazine style guide
http://www.economist.com/research/StyleGuide/

The BBC style guide
http://www.bbctraining.com/onlineCourse.asp?tID=5487&cat=3

The Guardian style guide
http://www.guardian.co.uk/styleguide/0,5817,184913,00.html

And of course, the Wikipedia entry on the subject, complete with more links
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Style_guide

dezcom's picture

The main use I have seen of this is when drop caps are used to begin a chapter. The first word used (initial drop capped) is set in small caps. I have not seen more than one word but this is not a style manual talking so don't quite me.

ChrisL

jim_rimmer's picture

Whether started with a drop cap (initial) or simply led in with small caps, I follow the style that uses a phrase or a partial statement:

AT THE OUTSET there was no etc.,
IN HIS HASTE he dropped a wrench etc.,

If one sets only the first word in small caps the lead-ins can look inconsistent, like when the first word is ony two letters. Using a two, three, or even four word small cap lead-in tends to give one a little more to work with in setting a consistent look to each chapter.

It's also very nice to moderately thinspace the small cap lead-in.

Jim

Miss Tiffany's picture

I basically do as Jim suggests. I've use drop cap and the rest of the line as smallcaps, but this can become hellish to balance with weird word lengths.

Bert Vanderveen's picture

I have seen all small caps for the first line (after an initial) and I like that better than a fixed (low) number of words. I think the idea behind using sc's after an initial is that the contrast between an initial (dropped or raised) and lowercase following that is somewhat harsh… (Please correct me if I'm wrong).
I'm gonna look into this tomorrow — have to find my copy of Van Krimpens‘s ”Book”…

Palatine's picture

Thanks for the comments, everyone.

There seems to be no fixed standard. I have yet to see a complete line in small caps. The most I've seen is five words. Perhaps I've seen more and it's only because I'm beginning to notice it now that my memory has become selective.

jupiterboy's picture

I think people use it for emphasis, like a pull quote without as much fuss. I don't know the precedent, could be a bad trend. Looking at a Wenda Gu book and noticed that the intos and forward had used this technique. I kinda like it.

Norbert Florendo's picture

The use of all caps, small caps, and even caps with small caps varies greatly in history, from country to country, publisher to publisher, and in context with the subject of the book (novel, poetry, prose, non-fiction, title page, content page, list of bookplates, indices, etc.).

I had always found these variations interesting, and in the past would emulate, mix-and-match, innovate or knowingly violate the convention. So it's fair to say, there ARE NO RULES, but stylistic preferences.

Of note, the first word in a poem, whether using large drop cap or not, was frequently in cap-small caps:
The courtship of Miles Standish,: and other poems./ By Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

But in this case, the poem starts with a large drop cap followed by caps:
Ballads of New England,: by John Greenleaf Whittier

Interesting style usage of caps and small caps within the context of Dictionary definitions:
MILITARY DICTIONARY, published by D. Van Nostrand, New York, 1861.

Sometimes I've seen only the first word in caps or caps/small caps, and sometimes I've seen the entire first line done in a combination of all caps followed by cap/small caps.

I think I've shown this piece I did at Compugraphic in 1981 --

dezcom's picture

Norbert,
I would love to have a PDF of that TUSCALOOSA to print for my office wall.
Trip to Africa--$100,000; Elephant Ears for desert--$5.25; A copy of Norberts "LOOSA", Priceless!!!

ChrisL

John Hudson's picture

I agree with Jim, this is a semi-editorial decision based on the structure of the initial sentence, and if possible you should try to match the extent of the smallcaps to a phrase or clause or some other distinct part of speech.

Nick Shinn's picture

Not all small caps are the same size, relative to the lower case x-height.

I've found that if the small cap is short, it might have to be increased half a point.

Bert Vanderveen's picture

QuarkXPress used to have an awful default setting for *fake* small caps, I think it was around 60% height. I used to increase that to 70% and stretch horizontally 105–110%. Some added tracking would help too… Don't know what the people at Quark's have done with that lately.

Thank god for real sc's an otf. And InDesign, of course.

Rob Mientjes's picture

Seconding dezcom here. That is and would be awesome.

Oh, and to make sure I actually say something useful, a complete first line set in small caps can be a bit too heavy if the paragraph or text has few lines. I myself prefer the practice of applying small caps to the first part of the sentence, like jim_rimmer posted.

pattyfab's picture

I've done it both ways, the entire first line or just a first phrase or lead-in. Sometimes in a different font, size, or color. Editorially I don't know of any hard and fast rule, I just try to choose a phrase that makes sense and kind of stands alone, as Jim suggested.

dave bailey's picture

QuarkXPress used to have an awful default setting for *fake* small caps, I think it was around 60% height. I used to increase that to 70% and stretch horizontally 105–110%. Some added tracking would help too… Don’t know what the people at Quark’s have done with that lately.

Thank god for real sc’s an otf. And InDesign, of course.

I was just thinking about this recently, how InDesign straight up tells you 'Ok, this typeface has small caps, push this button and you're good to go. If the button isn't available then go find another face that does have SC.' In Quark you just have the default Style settings Plain/Bold/Italic/All Caps/All Lowercase/Small Caps etc. and there's no real intuitive way to know if those settings are real or faux. I always use the sub-faces for Italic/Bold etc but you don't have that option for SC. Suggestions for us Quark users?

dezcom's picture

I suggest that Quark users lobby Quark heavily as I used to do. I quit doing it eventually though because I got fed up with Quark's lack of respnse to customer needs. I switched to InDesign 2 years ago and would not go back to Quark even if it were free. I know some clients want Quark and my condolances if you have Quark as a stipulation in your work.

ChrisL

dave bailey's picture

I use Quark here at work and was taught Quark at school so that is my dilemna. I'm starting to feel like InDesign is better with setting type these days, perhaps I need to finally break down and teach myself how to use it. It seems like InDesign is more friendly with our new explosion of the OpenTypeFormat.

timd's picture

David,
Avoid those style settings altogether. Many output devices ignore the selections and anyway they can be mechanical versions. For small caps look for a font in the sub-menu with SC at the end of the name, for example, Adobe Garamond > AGaramond RegularSC. One of the many problems with Quark is that style option menu. Instead of all their web-friendly options that were offered as new generations since version 4 they should have concentrated on refining the typesetting aspects. Quark should (according to them) be supporting OpenType in the next generation.
Tim

dave bailey's picture

Thanks Tim, my confusion comes just at that fact though. Like I said in one of my above posts, I avoid the style settings, but for example we have Warnock Pro here at work and here's a screenshot from Quark that I just took:


Small Caps is included in all the weights but DOES NOT show up in the Weight menu of the typeface. Sorry to hijack the thread, but do you see my confusion?

Nick Shinn's picture

InDesign straight up tells you ‘Ok, this typeface has small caps, push this button and you’re good to go. If the button isn’t available then go find another face that does have SC.

Is that new with CS2?
I don't have that version yet. The way things are in CS "1", there is no way of telling (from the menu) whether the small caps you're getting with an OpenType font are faux or real. Just like Quark etc.

Ideally, there should be a mouseover action attached to the "small caps" button, with the window pop-up, "WARNING!: you are about to use FAUX small caps which will signal to the world that YOU DON'T KNOW DICK ABOUT TYPOGRAPHY", if true small caps are not available.

dave bailey's picture

I guess I was thinking about OpenType, in InDesign CS2 under the Character Palatte > Open Type you see all your options: Swashes, Small Caps etc. and the features that aren't available have brackets around them and don't do anything when you click on them. Someone correct me if I'm wrong here!

timd's picture

Now I see your problem David, not something that I've had to face yet. When you use the style sheet does it change to the genuine small caps or just scaled uppercase?
Tim

dan_reynolds's picture

David, you can't use the small caps in Warnock Pro in Quark at all. Quark XPress doesn't support OpenType yet. The small caps in Warnock Pro are not available as separate fonts; they are OpenType features inside the regular fonts' character sets. Sorry :(

dave bailey's picture

Umm no OpenType in Quark? >:-o If that isn't a reason for me to start learning InDesign, I don't know what is. My professors will get a word about this when I get back to classes in April!

TimD: I don't know what happens, I'll let you know on Monday but as Dan says, evidently I can't use it at all. So I'm sure it'll just be the faux replica :-(.

Nick Shinn's picture

My professors will get a word about this when I get back to classes in April!

Perhaps Quark will have released v.7 by then, which is slated to be have full OpenType support (or, shall we say, at least as much as InDesign).

However, it's not really the purpose of design school to train workers how to use the latest technology, although the manufacturers would no doubt like it that way.

You will have plenty of time on the upgrade treadmill once you graduate David. It's not about the software.

dezcom's picture

Nick is right. It is not about software, that stuff comes and goes (in the case of Quark goes should be gone). Spend your time learning about design and communication. By the time you are a few years out of school, the tools will have changed. The tools I used in school have been gathering dust for years but I still use the knowledge I gained in design problem solving.

ChrisL

dave bailey's picture

I didn't mean it in the sense that I think they should change over, I just think that when we learn Quark it should be mentioned that it doesn't support OpenType! (as of now anyways, maybe it will by the time I get back).

I'm actually glad we use Quark, because it's been the industry standard for such a long time that most of the jobs we go into will most likely be using it in the design studio, case in point my job at RCA. It was one of the questions I was asked in my interview, if I knew how to use Quark. Evidently some schools are just teaching InDesign and that seems backwards.

I understand it's not what you use, it's how you use it, thanks for the words though, guys!

dan_reynolds's picture

some schools are just teaching InDesign and that seems backwards

There isn't anything backwards about that at all. In fact, little could be more forward. Although it is just as possible to make great work in Quark, or even is an old version of PageMaker, InDesign will be the next standard bearer. The world has seen this coming since at least 2001. We are in 2006 now. Lots of great big ad agencies the world over use InDesign. No school that teaches InDesign is handicaping their students, at least from a software-usage point of view (Chris' comment about the tools is spot on… even if you had known InDesign and not Quark, you probably would have gotten your job now anyway David… once you've learned a few of the big programs, the rest can be learned in a snap. I'm sure you could have taught yourself Quark overnight if you had had to).

dave bailey's picture

Fair enough, I'm talking myself in circles again and have derailed another thread. Thanks for your thoughts though, just thinking out loud really.

hrant's picture

> “WARNING!: you are about to use FAUX small caps which will
> signal to the world that YOU DON’T KNOW DICK ABOUT TYPOGRAPHY”

To the world? I wish. More like to font freaks... :-/
Faux smallcaps are the norm, even in the most
prestigious projects. Which is why I feel bad
wasting the time making them... unless I can
charge an arm and a leg to those who care.

hhp

Nick Shinn's picture

Faux smallcaps are the norm, even in the most
prestigious projects.

Yeah, like hash marks instead of proper "curly" quotes.
At least typophiles have plenty of opportunity to feel superior ;-)

Norbert Florendo's picture

OK... shoot me if you want to, but I use to entice "high-end" designers into purchasing full families of digital type fonts back in the Agfa MCS Digital Imagesetter days...

Sometime I would use the look of small cap titling and initial paragraph lead-ins by using a combo of type weights and sizes. Here's a test similar to what I did in promoting fonts --

The first line uses true cut small caps which is correct when setting lowercase charaters within the same line. (BTW -- I did not do any correcting of spacing/kerning on any of these tests, I just wanted to display relative character heights.)

The second example shows the light weight of Jenson in 40 pts and the "small caps" are simulated by using regular weight of Jenson at 32 pts. The combo looks more like a titling weight and to me balances nicely especially when set on its own line without lowercase to jar the x-height.

I have a pdf if anyone wants a close-up look. I figured that using a type family in this way must have been very similar to how typographers built book plates and titling pages using a combination of hot metal point sizes and family weights. All in all it promoted the purchase of complete type families.

dezcom's picture

Norbert,
It only works if the weights balance at the sizes chosen (your GIF looks OK in that regard). That was sometimes the only option back when we were young :-)
In this day of OTF, it is far easier to just buy the tool designed for the job. We should be making similar test showings of Caps with Small Caps and comparing the faked version (page makeup software dumps out) with the real McCoy from a quality opentype font which includes smcp by design.

ChrisL

Norbert Florendo's picture

Here ya go, Dez ol' boy --

Quite different eh wot?
The most dramatice difference is in the narrowness of the faux small cap "H" and height of the faux small caps. All in all it doesn't look too bad but it suffers mostly in the thins. (BTW -- this was all set using InDesign CS2 and Adobe Jenson Pro OTF.)

Most graphic designers wouldn't take the time nor may have the notions to go through such options. Ultimately, the eye of the typophile (I don't even know if "typographer" is a valid distinction anymore) would make judgements based on the intent, content and desired affect on the reader. Everyone else would just click on the "small cap" menu option, n'est pas?

dezcom's picture

"Everyone else would just click on the “small cap” menu option,"

I fear you are right. We have some major educating to do don't we?

ChrisL

PS: Most people think Small Caps are stocks :-)

http://www.investopedia.com/articles/analyst/010502.asp

licK_Neo's picture

The OED (sententious, a.) cites Luckombe, Philip -- [A concise history of the origin and progress of printing (anon.) 1770
—ed. 2, entitled The history and art of printing 1771]:

1771 LUCKOMBE Hist. Printing 250 The first word of a new paragraph..is commonly put in Small Capitals... But this rule may be very well laid aside in matter which is too sententious and which would take up more Small Capitals than an ordinary..Fount could supply. Ibid. 386 Others are so sententious in their writing that they break off almost at every place that will admit of a Full-point.

( The whole work 'The history and art of printing' 1771 is available for full, free access at http://books.google.com/books?id=kkI5AAAAMAAJ )

~
It would seem that that versions of small-caps openings predate contemporary usage, and that they may have exceeded its scope.

Although I haven't undertaken any systematic research of the matter, bert_vanderveen's guess seems a good one: Makes sense. Also, the large opening letter for chapters and stories used to be more common at the same time that small-caps usage seems to have been more common.

I think jim_rimmer's remark is dead-on, although aesthetically, I think there are pros and cons to a large leading letter with caps, or even a caps-only leader, under a chapter number and possibly title, graphic, et cetera. But more on chapter-openings later.

The convention of the large opening letter seems to be waning. Its primary use (that I've seen) now in modern print is mostly in a stylistic old-timesy manner in fantasy, romance, or other novels, or memoirs, or in print or online periodicals, e.g. The Economist, where a large opening capital (sometimes a non-type graphic) helps to balance the page. (Images or cartoons are often located in the bottom center or on the right margin of the page.)

Although I'm sure the large opening letter is used in all sorts of books still in print -- usually with a short small-cap clip (I think about 3 words is most common.) -- it's worth noting that the small-caps opening of a paragraph seems to have taken on a new, or perhaps, depending upon the intention and context of the Luckombe quote, a revived usage: namely, that of accentuating sectional gaps (rather than toning down or making more palatable the accentuation accomplished by large opening letters). In a variety of books and other applications, small-caps leaders of three or four words are used to open a new section within the same chapter, essay, story, or article. In some books, these small-caps leaders are accompanied by minor or major leading letters, but generally they're not; and the distinctiveness of the usage can be seen from alternative methods used to achieve it, now. The same sort of sectional break is in other texts accomplished under bolded/italicized/underlined/small-capped/all-capped/imagized headings, etc; via demarcation of the text into section boxes or broken columns; or using stars, lines, asterisks, or other type/graphics above the first line of the new section, often centered in the page, or even left of (and separate from) the opening line.

In this manner, the small-caps lead-in has developed (or recovered, or enriched) a significant usage apart from that of chapter openings. There may even be a case for using small-cap lead-ins in a book, for instance, but not in chapter openings, only in sectional breaks. The practical effect of caps lead-ins, I would argue, is two-fold: (1) It accentuates the beginning of a description by providing a pause for the reader, along with a (sub)conscious realization that a new string of narrative or exposition is to begin. This provides the opportunity to recollect one's wits, take a sip of water, adjust one's glasses, change postures, reconsider the just-finished portion of text... the day... the weather... the birds... the time. It provides a firmer version of what the sentence, and particularly the paragraph, provides: a chance to get out, or at least pause.

(2) It gives the caps-rendered words a sort of unique definition. Whereas prose is metered in word, phrase, sentence, and paragraph, in verse every word or sequence of two or more words is arguably imbued with pregnant meaning. Ambiguous syntax, line construction, and punctuation in poetry intensify this effect. A portion of prose may be said to hint severally at various interpretations, but the confines of Standard English syntax greatly reduce any actual uncertainty as to what the primary surface meaning of a given utterance is. Likewise, although punctuation, sentence configuration, word selection and arrangement, et cetera, can amplify or dampen verbal turns in the phrase, it is ultimately the reader's own apprehension of the text and internal rendering that defines the cadence of a passage read. Spoken aloud, a text may recover some of the multiplicity and uncertainty of verse, but only a portion. I would argue that the caps-rendered lead-in performs a sort of poetic, focusing function. It renders the first few, seemingly random, words of the passage apart, now, like a line or an artificial phrase. Even if the format is applied after-the-fact, of a later decision, still the delineation of lines in this fashion is certain to draw out some ubiquitous moments in the text. But if the author composes with an eye to the structure to begin with... surely (s)he is offered therein a unique, unobtrusive thrust of poetic verve to begin her prose. The focusing effect of opening caps can be seen in the reference of old (un)numbered poems, or new ones, according to the first full line, phrase, or opening words of the poem, or in the manner in which news stories or mimetic forms sometimes begin LOCATION: SPECIFIC LOCATION. TIME. Et cetera. It sets the scene.

Now, fan though I clearly am of small-caps intros, I have a caveat: I'm not sure that they do more good than harm, in the opening of a chapter or (sometimes) a piece. Already the reader is outside of the text, having just finished a chapter, or another article, or another activity -- maybe a phone call. Does the reader need to be reminded: 'OK, you're about to plunge into this! OK.' I don't think so. Among sections, the interest built and maintained in the previous section keeps up the momentum of the read and encourages the reader to carry forward. The reader is also reassured by regular (though not flippant or excessive) sectional breaks: 'OK', if I need to go get something to drink/pick up the kids/answer the door/move the laundry/check on the chicken/catch the next bus/etc etc... I can do it at the next break.' But beginning a chapter, book, or long article... the first introductory phrase, stark in caps and fanfare, implies the ENTIRE endeavor of the WHOLE READ! 'I don't know if I have time to be starting War and Peace, I have to be sure dinner's ready by 5...' And whereas the phrase-making of the intro-caps lead-in, underlining in modest poetry the composed nature of the work, mid-thrust, at the beginning of a great reading endeavor surely such a reminder is more jarring and unsettling, than conspiratorial. The reader knows it all already. She doesn't want to be reminded. Don't give her extra excuses. Don't dredge up her fears and anxieties and hit her over the head with COMMITMENT! Ease 'er into it. I say: cap your sections; ease your chapters. But that's just me.

licK_Neo's picture

(edit)

The OED (sententious, a.) cites Luckombe, Philip — [A concise history of the origin and progress of printing (anon.) 1770
—ed. 2, entitled The history and art of printing 1771]:

1771 LUCKOMBE Hist. Printing 250 The first word of a new paragraph..is commonly put in Small Capitals... But this rule may be very well laid aside in matter which is too sententious and which would take up more Small Capitals than an ordinary..Fount could supply. Ibid. 386 Others are so sententious in their writing that they break off almost at every place that will admit of a Full-point.

( The whole work ’The history and art of printing’ 1771 is available for full, free access at http://books.google.com/books?id=kkI5AAAAMAAJ )

~
It would seem that that versions of small-caps openings predate contemporary usage, and that they may have exceeded its scope.

Although I haven’t undertaken any systematic research of the matter, bert_vanderveen’s guess seems a good one: "I think the idea behind using sc’s after an initial is that the contrast between an initial (dropped or raised) and lowercase following that is somewhat harsh…" Makes sense. Also, the large opening letter for chapters and stories used to be more common at the same time that small-caps usage seems to have been more common.

I think jim_rimmer’s remark ("Using a two, three, or even four word small cap lead-in tends to give one a little more to work with in setting a consistent look to each chapter.") is dead-on, although aesthetically, I think there are pros and cons to a large leading letter with caps, or even a caps-only leader, under a chapter number and possibly title, graphic, et cetera. But more on chapter-openings later.

The convention of the large opening letter seems to be waning. Its primary use (that I’ve seen) now in modern print is mostly in a stylistic old-timesy manner in fantasy, romance, or other novels, or memoirs, or in print or online periodicals, e.g. The Economist, where a large opening capital (sometimes a non-type graphic) helps to balance the page. (Images or cartoons are often located in the bottom center or on the right margin of the page.)

Although I’m sure the large opening letter is used in all sorts of books, still, in print — usually with a short small-cap clip (I think about 3 words is most common.) — it’s worth noting that the small-caps opening of a paragraph seems to have taken on a new, or perhaps, depending upon the intention and context of the Luckombe quote, a revived usage: namely, that of accentuating sectional gaps (rather than palliating the (over-)accentuation accomplished by large opening letters). In a variety of books and other applications, small-caps leaders of three or four words are used to open a new section within the same chapter, essay, story, or article. In some books, these small-caps leaders are accompanied by minor or major leading letters, but generally they’re not; and the distinctiveness of the usage can be seen in alternative methods used to achieve it, now: the same sort of sectional break is in other texts accomplished under bolded/italicized/underlined/small-capped/all-capped/imagized headings, etc; via demarcation of the text into section boxes or broken columns; or using stars, lines, asterisks, or other type/graphics above the first line of the new section, often centered in the page, or even left of (and separate from) the opening line.

In this manner, the small-caps lead-in has developed (or recovered, or enriched) a significant usage apart from that of chapter openings. There may even be a case for using small-cap lead-ins in a book, for instance, but not in chapter openings, only in sectional breaks. The practical effect of caps lead-ins, I would argue, is two-fold: (1) They accentuate the beginning of a description by providing a pause for the reader, along with a (sub)conscious realization that a new string of narrative or exposition is to begin. This provides the opportunity to recollect one’s wits, take a sip of water, adjust one’s glasses, change postures, reconsider the just-finished portion of text... the day... the weather... the birds... the time. It provides a firmer version of what the sentence, and particularly the paragraph, provides, more generally: a chance to get out, or at least to pause.

(2)The usage imbues the caps-rendered words with a sort of a sort of unique definition. Whereas prose is metered in word, phrase, sentence, and paragraph, in verse every word or sequence of two or more words is arguably imbued with pregnant meaning. Ambiguous syntax, line construction, and punctuation in poetry intensify this effect. A portion of prose may be said to hint severally at various interpretations, but the confines of Standard English syntax greatly reduce any actual uncertainty as to what the primary surface meaning of a given utterance is. (Puns are clearly the exception, rather than the rule.) Likewise, although punctuation, sentence configuration, word selection and arrangement, et cetera, can amplify or dampen verbal turns in the phrase, it is ultimately the reader’s own apprehension of the text and internal rendering that defines the cadence of a passage read. Spoken aloud, a text may recover some of the multiplicity and uncertainty of verse, but only a portion.

I would argue that the caps-rendered lead-in performs a sort of poetic, focusing function. It renders the first few, seemingly random, words of the passage apart, now, like a line or an artificial phrase. Even if the format is applied after-the-fact, of a later decision, still the delineation of lines in this fashion is certain to draw out some ubiquitous moments in the text. But if the author composes with an eye to the structure to begin with... surely (s)he is offered therein a unique, unobtrusive thrust of poetic verve to begin her prose. The focusing effect of opening caps can be seen in the reference of old (un)numbered poems, or new ones, according to the first full line, phrase, or opening words of the poem; or in the manner in which news stories or mimetic forms sometimes begin LOCATION: SPECIFIC LOCATION. TIME. Et cetera. It sets the scene.

~
Now, fan though I clearly am of small-caps intros, I have a caveat: I’m not sure that they do more good than harm, in the opening of a chapter or (sometimes) a piece. Already the reader is outside of the text, having just finished a chapter, or another article, or another activity — maybe a phone call. Does the reader need to be reminded: ’OK, you’re about to plunge into this! OK.’ I don’t think so. Among sections, the interest built and maintained in the previous section keeps up the momentum of the read and encourages the reader to carry forward. The reader is also reassured by regular (though not flippant or excessive) sectional breaks: ’OK.' / 'If I need to go get something to drink/pick up the kids/answer the door/move the laundry/check on the chicken/catch the next bus/etc etc... I can do it at the next break.’ But beginning a chapter, book, or long article... the first introductory phrase, stark in caps and fanfare, implies the ENTIRE endeavor of the WHOLE READ! ’I don’t know if I have time to be starting War and Peace, I have to be sure dinner’s ready by 5...’ And whereas the phrase-making of the intro-caps lead-in, mid-thrust, underlines in modest poetry the composed nature of the work, at the beginning of a great reading endeavor surely such a reminder is more jarring and unsettling, than conspiratorial. The reader knows it all already. She doesn’t want to be reminded. Don’t give her extra excuses. Don’t dredge up her fears and anxieties and hit her over the head with COMMITMENT! Ease ’er into it. I say: cap your sections; ease your chapters. But that’s just me.

innovati's picture

my rule of thumb is as many words as make up the first fragment of the sentence.

lets try it with: I walked into the bank with a song in my heart and a gun in my hand.

I WALKED INTO the bank with a song in my heart and a gun in my hand.

^ too short

I WALKED INTO THE BANK with a song in my heart and a gun in my hand.

^ just right

I WALKED INTO THE BANK WITH A SONG in my heart and a gun in my hand.

^ too long.

Think of the part in small caps on it's own. "I walked into" doesn't say enough, "I walked into the bank" says something on it's own, even though the thought isn't done.

best of luck, I don't think there's a rule per se, but it's tough to pick sometimes.

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