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I am doing my resume right now, and I have a lot of acronyms. I'm using an OpenType font, so I've always put those acronyms in small caps. I've never quite been sure what to do, though, when a heading line or a list item begins with an acronym. When it begins with any other word, I would capitalize that first word. But with an acronym that's set in small caps, do I bump the first letter up to regular caps? Looks weird, to my eye.

Small caps alone

Small caps alone

Small caps with full caps

Small caps with full caps

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Butterick's guide to typography is my go-to typographical reference, here's what it says on the matter:

With small caps, it’s your call whether to use reg­u­lar cap­i­tal let­ters at the be­gin­ning of cap­i­tal­ized words. I pre­fer not to.

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This is a matter of preference....

For Acronyms I would use all uppercase. Small caps is fine if mid sentence and the entire acronym is small caps.

However, starting a sentence or section should be all caps for acronyms. There should not be any visual variance in the size of the glyphs in an acronym, ever. That kind of defeats the acronym itself.

  • There should not be any visual variance in the size of the glyphs in an acronym, ever. That kind of defeats the acronym itself. Thank you for putting that into words. That's really been my hangup with this, I think. – spoko Mar 2 '18 at 13:58
  • It is a difficult call. I kind of agree with you, with the reservation that visual variance is acceptable in certain pronounceable acronyms, like NATO. – Yongwei Wu Nov 9 '18 at 14:08
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I haven't read any hard-and-fast rules and seems to come down to personal preference in much of the reading I've done on this. A key factor is being consistent, choosing a typeface with small caps, and applying proper letterspacing.

Some suggest rewording a sentence so it doesn't need to start with an acronym but that seems an unlikely approach in formatting a list of technical skills on your resume. In prose that's more easily done.

Refer to http://theworldsgreatestbook.com/book-design-part-5/ (the "Book Design Tip: Use Small Caps to represent Characters in a Play", and "Book Design Tip: Use Small Caps for Elegant Headlines" sections). There, I think the mixing of full cap with small caps works quite well.


Capitals in plays


Capitals in headlines


As the convention for sentences is to begin with a capital, our eyes are trained for this and so I think full cap/small cap mixing is perfectly acceptable and more visually pleasing at the beginning of a line.

  • Your examples are ordinary words, but his main concern is about acronyms. I found this question exactly because I have similar concerns. I kind of agree with Scott that there should not be visual variance in the size of the glyphs in an acronym. – Yongwei Wu Nov 9 '18 at 14:06

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