February 24th, 2012
It’s more important to use a colon correctly than to decide whether you’ll capitalize an ordinary word that follows it. Here’s an example of a correctly used colon in a sentence about the Oscars:
The awards show is working hard to pump up its social-media clout as it tries to leverage a growing phenomenon: More and more viewers are supplementing the experience of merely watching their favorite TV shows by joining in simultaneous running commentaries on Twitter and Facebook.
That sentence is from the Wall Street Journal site; capitalizing all words after a colon is their house style. Style decision aren’t a matter of correct and incorrect language. It’s only important to be consistent by capitalizing each and every word that follows a colon if you capitalize just one in a document.
The optional capital letter after a colon is a reminder of an important fact: a colon should only follow a word group that could stand on its own as a complete sentence.
Many sentences with colons are longer than the maximum length of about 30 words that keeps it easy for a reader to follow a business document. The quoted sentence above is 45 words long.
If you find yourself asking whether you’re using a colon correctly, just try substituting a period for the colon. It’s always correct to write two shorter sentences, and two briefer bursts of information may be easier for your reader to follow.
Write It Well’s book Essential Grammar includes a chapter on ways you can keep your sentences easy to follow. We’ve made all the book’s exercises available as a free download here to accompany the e-book, which is now available on Amazon.com!
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