Capitalization, Titles

Q. People Seem to Have Capitalitis These Days. I am editing our company directory and wondering if all titles must be capitalized. My column headings include “Name” and “Title.” Under “Name,” I have Joe Smith. Under “Title,” which is correct: “Customer Service” or “customer service”?

A. You may be happy to know that the University of Chicago Press considers almost all titles to be generic unless they are used as part of a name. Practically no one gets special treatment—neither the pope nor the president of the United States. But the recommendations in The Chicago Manual of Style apply for the most part to descriptive and analytical texts. Excess capitalization hinders an argument’s clarity.

We’d allow an exception for something like your directory, where corporate politics might be a factor:

In promotional or ceremonial contexts such as a displayed list of donors in the front matter of a book or a list of corporate officers in an annual report, titles are usually capitalized even when following a personal name. Exceptions may also be called for in other contexts for reasons of courtesy or diplomacy. (8.19)

So though we at the press share your disdain for capitalization, please consider the exceptions and decide where your directory fits.