There are several technical terms for which I am struggling with the capitalization, such as

  • Electronic Stability Control (ESC)
  • Controller Area Network (CAN)
  • Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC)
  • Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS)
  • Autonomous Emergency Braking (AEB)
  • ...

I am not sure when to use them capitalized and when not. For all of them I can find both versions (small and capitalized) at Google Scholar. I am not sure how established such a term should be in order to count as "proper noun" and thus has to be capitalized. Are there any rules? Would it be ok to just write all of them in small letters?


2 Answers 2


All of your examples should be spelled out in lowercase because they do not describe unique, one-of-a-kind elements, rather they describe a type or class of element. One way to verify is to ask if you can use an article in front of them, such a "a" or "the" or if you can make them plural; if so, then they are not proper nouns and should not be capitalized. For example, you could say the electronic stability control on my Ford works much better than the electronic stability control on my Toyota.

  • But I can use articles in front of "Ford" and "Toyota", and I can make them plural: I drive a Ford, but everyone else in my family drives Toyotas. So by your criterion, you shouldn't capitalize these car names. (I agree with your conclusion --- I'd use lower-case for all the examples in the question. My disagreement is with your suggestion for how to decide such matters.) Commented Mar 8, 2018 at 2:56
  • Good point. I should have said, after you rule out all the other, more obvious ways of identifying proper nouns, such as, "Is it a brand name?" "Is it a person's name?" "Is it the name of a country?" etc. If not, then try this method. Toyota and Ford are capitalized because they are brand names/trademarks and company names.
    – mkitz
    Commented Mar 9, 2018 at 14:17

It depends on the context of the paper/reader/community. For example, in many government technical documents, we love to capitalize things. That is because we do mean them to be unique, one-of-a kind elements. Major Training Exercise is a proper noun that we have defined and are using to identify certain things. The problem may be if a term isn't specifically defined in a particular document, but is known to be used in a specific way in the larger technical community. Can it be presumed that the reader knows we mean This Specific Thing when we say Thing? If you want to use a phrase to mean something specific, then just define it at first use in the document ("Company X's Autonomous Emergency Braking (AEB) program..."), but if you aren't using it to mean something specific, then do no capitalize.

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