If I am referring to a definite document, the name of which I have previously stated, is it proper to use a capital letter, and omit the document name?

For example, I mention some international standard called "ISO 1923801: The Proper Use of Capital Letters". If later in the text I am referring to it it omitting the full name, should I say "in the standard...", or "in the Standard", since the reader will know for sure which one I am talking about?

2 Answers 2


You would not capitalize "standard" because it is not a proper noun.

Think about it this way, if you were to be taking about a city named "San Franciso" rather than a standard named ISO 1923801: The Proper Use of Capital Letters you would not capitalize later instances of the word "city."

I visited the city of San Franciso. I found the city to be delightful.

If you wanted to be very clear in your text, you can give the work an alias, using parentheses.

For example:

I spent a lot of time on the popular standard on capitalization ISO 1923801: The Proper Use of Capital Letters ("the Standard"). Further perusals of the Standard continued to be useful.

You will find this type of device more often in legal documents.

  • Ironic example. People who live in or near San Francisco write "the City" (meaning San Francisco) all the time. Jun 11, 2017 at 15:23
  • @PeterShor Good point! And in Pittsburgh, they might write "Da Burg!" Noun capitalization serves to disambiguate, so if the audience perceives a term as a proper noun, then capitalizing it is actually the correct thing to do. There is no "Master List of Proper Nouns" (see what I did there?), so context is key. Plus, deviation from formal mechanics, when intentional and well-crafted, can be a powerful [meta-]semantic device. Novel-capitalization could be an effective for audiences across a broad range of reading aptitudes (I imagine, at or above a 5th grade level). Sep 27, 2017 at 6:21

It is fairly common to refer to a document by a word or a few words "excerpted" from the title in references after the first. This is especially true when several documents are referenced. In this case retain the capitalization of those words that they had in the title. (Often but not always, quotes or italics are also retained.) If you are referring to the document by a description that is not a part of the title, do not capitalize.

For example, suppose you mention "ISO 19238001: The Proper Use of Capital Letters", and also "The Oxford Guide to Capitalization". Later in the text you might refer to these as "In Proper, the committee states that ... On the other hand, Oxford recommends ..."

But if you are using a description like "the standard" or "this book", then no, it should not be capitalized. Capitalization is normally used to indicate a title or a proper name, not a description.

  • 1
    In your example, "Oxford" is capitalized because it is a proper name; would it be proper also to say "On the other hand, the Guide recommends"? Even though "guide" is not normally a proper noun, here the reference would not merely be to a previously-identified guide, but rather to the earlier title.
    – supercat
    Apr 30, 2014 at 23:23
  • @supercat (Very late reply.) Yes, my example was not well thought out. I was trying to say that something like "the Guide" would indeed be capitalized.
    – Jay
    Feb 16, 2021 at 0:54

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.