Capitalizing names and titles in our submission form

Something that continues to baffle me, in a low-key sort of way:

About two to three times a week (not enough to be a big deal, but enough that it doesn't feel like just an occasional fluke), an author submits a story to us using unusual capitalization of either their name or the story title.

Specifically, they write their name and/or the story title either in all lowercase or ALL CAPS.

In some cases, an author's name in all lowercase is an intentional choice. I've had friends who do that, and for that matter I've been signing my name to emails in all lowercase for twenty years now (though I only do that in email signatures, not other contexts); that doesn't bother me so much.

But most of the time, the author has capitalized both their name and the story title normally in the file containing the story.

So apparently, something about the submission form is causing some authors (but not most of them) to think that we want them to enter their name and/or the story title differently from how it appears on the story itself. (And not just capitalization; this happens with name variants, too.) They might enter their byline as "j zloty" in the form, but write it as "Jane Q. Zloty" on the story. They might enter the title as "THE ZLOTYS OF HARRISBURG" in the form, but write it as "The Zlotys of Harrisburg" at the top of the story.

I send them a form response saying that we'll consider their story but asking them to follow the instructions next time, and that's usually the end of it.

And the really best solution would be for the submission system to scan the story file, figure out the title and author name that are actually in the file (when present; they aren't always) (note to authors: your name and the story's title should go on the first page of your story in standard MS format, whether or not you're submitting it electronically), and use those (when available) in place of whatever the author specified in the form. The system should also detect and correct all-caps, in cases where the author does use all-caps for the story title in the story itself. Except that sometimes a story title is an acronym, or a spelled-out W-O-R-D, and all-caps is appropriate. Anyway, there's a lot of automation that I could add to the system that would make it smarter and better able to deal with malformatted input. It could even detect email addresses at the top of the story and use those (if available) in place of whatever the author entered in the form.

I suppose the other best answer would be for me to just ignore this issue, and retype author names and titles when necessary for use in our database. It only takes a few seconds. In writing this entry, I've already spent more time on this issue than I normally spend in a month of sending "please follow the instructions" autoresponses to authors.

But the capitalization thing does annoy me. And it continues to puzzle me; I feel like if I understood what it is about the form that makes authors think we want unusual capitalization, then I could fix the form and the problem would go away.

(I wrote this about three weeks ago, but neglected to post it.)

7 Responses to “Capitalizing names and titles in our submission form”

  1. Jackie M.

    Does it actually interfere with your ability to file the story in some way? Or does it just sort of grate on you the way my putting down 3-5-4 during a game of rummy bothers my best friend?

  2. Jed

    Good question. If they’re consistent from story to story in what they enter in the form, then it doesn’t interfere with filing. But if we end up publishing the story (which hasn’t happened yet in this sort of case, but it certainly could), then we have to discuss with them whether they want to use the byline they put on the story or the byline they entered in the form. There’s no situation in which any of this would interfere very much with my recordkeeping, but there are a variety of ways in which it could interfere a little. So I avoid the issue by changing the byline to match the one in the story before I enter it in our database. Which costs me a little bit of time every time I do it. (The database entry is automatically generated from what they type in the form, so any time I change that, it costs me a few seconds.)

    But yeah, a lot of my reaction is simply gut-level annoyance, probably of an obsessive-compulsive sort. And possibly also of a “People should follow rules!” sort. I’m big on people following rules, especially when I see no good reason to break them. Which reminds me that there’s also an element of “What were they thinking?”–like, this person went out of their way to do something unusual and inconsistent here, and I can’t imagine a good reason for them to have done so. I’m sure they had a good reason, but my lack of knowing what that reason might’ve been leads me to have a gut reaction along the lines of “They must be doing this on purpose, just to annoy me!” Which seems extremely unlikely, of course, when considered rationally; I’m just reporting my immediate gut reaction.

  3. Jackie M.

    See, I’m not big on rule-following if I see no reason not to break them. You should probably emphasize how much I’m actually screwing up your record-keeping, rather than the cumulative inconvenience it causes you to “fix” the titles every time.

    Otherwise, it’s now a point of principle! All caps, all the time. But only for Jed.

  4. Anonymous

    In order to use one of our databases, the students have to fill out a form when they first sign up. I’ve noticed that about a third of them fill out the whole thing in lowercase. Another handful hit the capslock key before they fill it out (although not as many as a third). So it might just be something about the way people approach forms on the Web. This form doesn’t have any instructions regarding capitalization, and I see that yours does, but I have found that some people don’t pay much attention to instructions unless the consequences for ignoring them are dire. (People don’t read signs, either.)

    In general, I try not to assume anything is caused by malice when laziness is just as likely to be the cause. It’s not always easy, though! Especially when the same bit of laziness constantly repeated causes me more work or is irritating.

  5. KJ

    Sorry, that comment above was me.

  6. jacob

    I see the all-caps thing a fair amount on forms that we collect. I wonder if it’s perhaps done by folks who are somewhat new to the web; kind of an equivalent of shouting into a phone if you’ve never made a phone call before. Like “gee, it seems incredible to me that my data is going to make it through this strange mechanism — if I put it all in caps it will at least be really easy to read if it comes through”. Just a thought.

  7. Jed

    [Lengthy and ill-considered responses to Jackie deleted half an hour later.]

    Jackie: Unfortunately, my irrational devotion to adhering to rules often conflicts with my friends’ irrational devotion to breaking them. Can we be friends anyway? …That probably sounds glib, but I’m serious. I started to escalate this difference into an argument, but it really is just a difference in worldview and approach, and I’m in such a pissy mood this week (for reasons having nothing to do with this entry or the magazine) that there’s no way such an argument would end well. So I’m gonna back off from it.

    KJ and Jacob: Fascinating; I had no idea that this behavior was common in online form-filling. Thanks for the info! I like your “strange mechanism” theory, Jacob.

    Side note: I should have mentioned that there’s an old tradition in publishing of using all-caps for story titles and other emphasis. But again, if someone uses all-caps for the title in the body of the story as well, then I can understand where they’re coming from. It’s when they use normal capitalization in the body of the story but not in the submission form that puzzles me. But KJ and Jacob’s experience applies here too; I guess the moral is that some people think of web forms as being some special thing, different from other contexts.

    …Huh, it just occurred to me that on paper forms, you’re often supposed to use block printing–all caps–for ease of legibility; I wonder if some people are transferring that experience to the web.


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