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Capital letters in academic writing

Should I capitalize the words ‘table’ and ‘figure’?

Table and figure are not proper nouns and should not be capitalized, unless you are referring to specific tables of figures within a document. For example:

  • Supplementary file 1 provides the tables with survey responses.
  • Most figures show an increasing trend.
  • The data reveal a strong relationship between input and learning speed (Figure 6).
  • The values in Table 5 indicate healthy growth.

Can I change the capitalization in direct quotes?

Although the rules differ between styles, publishers, and journal editors, in general, you can change the capitalization in quotes as long as you indicate what letters (or words) you have changed. You can do this using squared brackets.

For example, to make a quote flow well within your sentence, you can change the first letter of the first word, and indicate this change with squared brackets:

Original sentence: ‘Most analyses are flawed, …’

Changed capitalization: ‘Smith argues that “[m]ost analyses are flawed” (2018, p. 188).’

Read more about when to use direct quotes here.

Can I use acronyms in academic writing?

Yes, you can. In the first instance of a mention, use the written-out version, and provide the acronym. For example, as a first mention could be ‘the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC)’.

When making subsequent mentions, you use the acronym only (‘UNHRC’).

Go here for more guidelines on how to use abbreviations and acronyms in academic writing.

In your Abstract, you may not need to use acronyms, as you’re unlikely to repeat a term often enough. But if you do, make sure you provide the written-out form once more within the body of your text, when you use it there for the first time. This is because the Abstract is considered a separate piece of text, to be read independently from the rest of your paper.