Downstyle versus Upstyle


Typographic convention gives us the following reasons why downstyle is preferable to upstyle:
a) 80% of the time words appear set in lowercase letters resulting in a more familiar word shape (bouma).
b) Proper nouns like Your Name get a little more prominence and stand out as the proper nouns that they are.
c) It leaves less chance for titles that break on to two lines to be misinterpreted as two separate titles.
d) You don’t have to play the “should I capitalize of, it, and, or, the &c ?” game.

There may be others that I am not aware of. I do know however from my time working with bilingual government clients that down style is a common convention used in French.


Research question

Does downstyle influence reading performance when compared to upstyle?


Operational definitions

Down-style: Sometimes called “sentence case.” To capitalize only the first word and proper nouns in a word string. Below is a passage set in down-style.

“Imagine that you have before you a flagon of wine. You may choose your own favorite vintage for this imaginary demonstration, so that it be a deep shimmering crimson in color. You have two goblets before you. One is of solid gold, wrought in the most exquisite patterns. The other is of crystal-clear glass, thin as a bubble, and as transparent. Pour and drink; and according to your choice of goblet, I shall know whether or not you are a connoisseur of wine.”

Up-style: Sometimes called “title case.” To capitalize almost every word in a word string Usually nouns, adjectives and adverbs. Below is the same passage set in upstyle:

“Imagine That You Have Before You A Flagon Of Wine. You May Choose Your Own Favorite Vintage For This Imaginary Demonstration, So That It Be A Deep Shimmering Crimson In Color. You Have Two Goblets Before You. One Is Of Solid Gold, Wrought In The Most Exquisite Patterns. The Other Is Of Crystal-Clear Glass, Thin As A Bubble, And As Transparent. Pour And Drink; And According To Your Choice Of Goblet, I Shall Know Whether Or Not You Are A Connoisseur Of Wine.”

Independent variable
Capitalization (downstyle & upstyle)

Dependent variables
Reading time (words per minute)
Comprehension accuracy


Experimental design

Repeated measures within subject. Expose participants (Ss) to a series of reading comprehension tests set in downstyle. Record their time to read. Then have them answer comprehension questions. Record their time to answer and comprehension accuracy. Repeat this with passages set in upstyle. Be sure to counterbalance the order of passages and styles between and within Ss through use of a Latin square to remove any untoward effects of order (for more reading on my fondness of Latin squares see my post “I love Latin (squares) ”).


Data analysis

One-way repeated measures analysis of variance (ANOVA).



I don’t need to conduct an experiment to know that downstyle will outperform upstyle. Neither would an 18 year old first year psychology student. Just admit that the only thing you have ignorantly been basing your decision making process on is mindless convention. Please don’t make me go statistical on your ass. Just use downstyle already dammit! Fuck! How many times do I have to say the same thing over and over again before you just shut up and do as you’re told! And do you want to know what really chaps my ass? Right now you’re calling me a dick, and 3-10 years from now (depending on how much of a moron you are) you’ll be using downstyle. I really need to figure out a way to get paid for bitching at people and predicting the future.


Further reading

BEsNer, d. (1989). ON thE rOlE of oUtliNe shApe aNd woRd-sPeciFIC vIsUaL pATern in ThE idENtIFicatIOn OF fUNCTtiOn wOrdS: nONe. tHE qUaRteRly joURnaL of EXPErimEntal PSYchOLOgy: HUMAn exPErImeNtal PSYChoLOgy, Vol 41(1–A), 91–105.

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