Proper Names

Q. With regard to capitalizing city and state, we as reporters are taught to be “consistent,” which can be near impossible. Here is my particular dilemma: The City of Anywhere is being sued. Is city capped throughout as a governmental agency being sued? I thought so, fine, until the matter came up that someone gets paid by the state. Great, now what? Cap one but not the other? It’s really quite maddening and I am in a state of frustration.

A. The first step is to not worry about a “consistency” that is often impossible with city and state because they are capped in proper names and lowercased in generic names, and that is not the kind of inconsistency writers need to avoid. There’s no inconsistency in writing “the State of Illinois” and “I’ve lived in that state a long time” in the same paragraph. Just keep a style sheet and try to use the same case in similar contexts, such as capping the City of Anywhere when it’s mentioned as party to a lawsuit.