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14 June 2013

CAPITALS are gone from US Navy messages

It’s official in the US Navy. CAPITALS are out. Sentence case is in.

The US Navy estimates savings of US$15m, as they'll now be able to send messages by ordinary email rather than specialised systems. 

The former ‘all capitals’ rule was a hangover from 19th century teletype machines, which didn’t have lower case letters.

The Navy also says that sentence case is more readable. We agree. The letter shapes are easier to identify, and the reader doesn’t feel like they’re being shouted at. And sentence case is the modern way to write.

Read the BBC news item about the decision

Read the media release from US Fleet Cyber Command

Not sure what the differences are between the ‘cases’ that typesetters use? A case is the way you use capitals to punctuate your writing.
  • Title Case Looks Like This — Most of the Words Start With a Capital Letter.
  • This is sentence case, with a capital letter at the start, capital letters for any proper nouns like ‘US Navy’, and a full stop at the end. 


  1. The Navy has also estimated it could save around $300 million a year if officers used plain English when they communicated. Changing from capitals to sentence case might help, but it won't mean we'll get clear, readable documents from the Navy.

    There is a simple way. The Navy should invest in the StyleWriter editing software designed to put all the Navy's documents into plain English.

  2. I doubt we'll see any savings because of the change. And it's completely untrue that we used only capital letters because teletypes didn't have lower case letters. It had more to do with simply limiting the number of characters in the set library.

    The primary reason for the all-capital Navy message was purely formatting so that messages could be quickly machine read by early computers. When I started out in the Navy, we used formatted messages for everything -- CASREP for Casualty Reports, MOVREP for Movement Reports and many, many others -- and today we still use the same structures and abbreviated form titles. After a short time, one could quickly read through the columns and lines of data with ease. In fact, when you need to quickly pull out numerical data from a Contact Report or rapidly act on an Operations Report, the formatted messages were... are, invaluable in a dynamic bridge or combat center.

    If anything, modern forms of communication and thy myriad mediums have made Navy communications more complicated, not easier. The confluence of e-mail, texting, video and photographic images available to every ship in the Navy, with one exception, all made possible by increased long-distance connectivity and capacity has eroded the qualities of the compact yet dense-with-information Navy message. And with that erosion, a good deal of the lingo that Navy men and women used has been lost or significantly degraded.