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Specifically for UI -- handwritten mockups, comics, etc are always better all-caps, but the same is never true for printed text. Why is that?

Visual Studio 2012's all-caps menus are generally despised.

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Can you link to a study that shows that all-caps handwriting offers better readability? I've never seen one. – Ben Durnell Feb 18 '13 at 7:34
Personally, I think you must differentiate between UI elements being upper case and body text being upper case. The answers so far seem to focus on the readability of body text set in upper case. – kontur Feb 18 '13 at 11:39
I think you are confusing "handwriting" with that awful American "cursive" thing. – DisgruntledGoat Feb 18 '13 at 11:50
I can't find a study, but I'll issue you a challenge of my own :). find a single handwritten comic that doesn't use upper case for the text. That observation is really the basis of the question. – ced Feb 18 '13 at 17:17
@ced The comic thing might merely be tradition, or perhaps it's easier for them to write legibly that way. This doesn't necessarily mean that upper-case handwriting is inherently easier to read. – Ben Durnell Feb 18 '13 at 21:33

11 Answers 11

up vote 18 down vote accepted

I believe the cause is that handwriting generally has a higher x-height than printed type.

That makes all-caps handwriting look more like printed small-caps, which are generally not considered rude, and actually end up looking formal.

It's also true that all-caps used on the web now carries the connotation of screaming by convention (as mentioned by Juan Lanus).

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All capital handwriting is easier to read because it takes more time to write and forces the author to slow down. This increases legibility by requiring the writer to compose each individual letter one at a time. The variations for capital letters are less compared to lower case or cursive characters. Architects and engineers developed their particular style to reduce the chances of illegible writing resulting in errors.

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Caps are more difficult to read.
This is because all letters have the same height, requiring some additional scrutiny to recognize each word (we read word by word, not letter by letter).
So you can use caps to EMPHASIZE a short heading, but if you use it all along the text your readers might quit reading early because of the additional effort, i.e., slower reading and less retention.

The SHOUTING thing is an internet convention, since long time ago.
It might stem from the fact that hearing somebody shouting is annoying, same as being forced to read all caps text.

As a comics reader, I was never annoyed by the all-caps style that's customary inside the dialog bubbles, and now that you tell it I'm surprised.
I guess that this is so because text is hand-written and thus the top of the text is not as regular as in print.
Also, now I recall having read comics where the text was typed (using a typewriter) and it was not nice, hand-written bubbles were much enjoyable.

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You're missing the other half of my question: why is it the inverse with handwriting? – ced Feb 18 '13 at 1:44
I believe the "SHOUTING" chatiquette meaning is actually based on the perception that upper case is in fact as annoying to read as it is being shouted at. It has the same "overwhelming" impression. – kontur Feb 18 '13 at 11:36
@ced: oops! sorry I skipped the second part, I'll add it to my answer later today. – Juan Lanus Feb 18 '13 at 13:49

Generally, it is more aesthetic to use "Proper case". But I believe there is way more variation of the form of small letters than caps for handwriting. This is why in case of handwriting, caps are less difficult to decipher, which degrades the meaning of proper case.

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Generally in plain text, bold text is use to EMPHASISE a word. When everything that you write is being emphasised, the closest equivalent to continual emphasis in speech is shouting.

The exception to this is when it is being used for labels and signs.

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Caps aren't significantly easier to read than standardized, separated non-caps in handwriting, the 'printed letters' of 'block letters'.

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If it is your own handwriting, it is always easier to read regardless of All Caps or not.

My personal experience is that ALL CAPS IS NEVERTHELESS HARD FOR US TO READ weather in handwriting or on system. In All Caps, alphabets look SIMILAR and you have to see them carefully to identify them. Visual scanning becomes more difficult when words in block have have more than 5 alphabets.

Regarding Words in blocks looking SHOUTING, this is matter of personal interpretation. To some of us BLOCKS may mean Important words or something worthy to notice. ALL CAPS WORDS become a substitute to bold text when Rich Text Formatting options are not available.

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Handwriting can differ from person to person by a great margin. If you are not accustomed to a specific persons handwriting, it can be very hard to read it. All caps handwriting is much more uniform and looks closer to typed letters.

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People identify with letters and words through recognition. Our brain is not used to seeing CAPS WHEN IT IS TYPED OUT because it is not very common -- therefore, makes it harder to read and we PERCEIVE it as shouting. We've recognized the pattern of what handwritten capital letters look like so it's easier for us to read. If you practice READING IN CAPS, you'll become used to it and it won't be perceiving it as SHOUTING so much.

You should check out the book 100 Things Every Designer Needs to Know About People. The author talks about perception -- I've pasted an excerpt below.

You’ve probably heard that words in uppercase letters are harder to read than those in mixed case or lowercase. You’ve probably even heard some kind of percentage cited, such as “between 14 and 20 percent harder.” The story goes that we read by recognizing the shapes of words and groups of words. Words in mixed case or lowercase letters have unique shapes. Words in all capital letters have the same shape—a rectangle of a certain size—so, in theory, they’re harder to distinguish....

SO, IS ALL CAPITALS HARDER TO READ THEN? We do actually read uppercase letters more slowly, but only because we don’t see them as often. Most of what we read is in mixed case, so we’re used to it. If you practice reading text in all capital letters, you’ll eventually read that text as fast as you read mixed case. This doesn’t mean you should start using capital letters for all your text. Since peole are unused to reading that way, it will slow them down. And these days, text in all caps is perceived as “shouting”

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Speculation: comics are written in all-caps because, relative to line thickness, handwritten text is generally very small. Using all capital letters gives the letters a little more space, and at the margin of illegibility due to small size, the gain in readability outweighs the loss from using all-caps.

As a test, I typed two short sentences in Comic Sans bold, one in mixed-case and one in all-caps. Zooming out until they were barely readable, the larger capitals are easier (for me) to read. Zooming in until they're a comfortable reading size, the reverse is true.

This may be part of why handwritten text has few serifs (though I suspect simple haste is the biggest part). On a tiny character, serifs blur the shape; on a large character, they help tie together the content of each word.

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Besides all other concerns mentioned here, there is another, purely typographical reason for why capital-case text is harder to read: in most "regular" fonts capital letters are designed so that they would look best when followed by lowercase letters. As a consequence, a string of capital-case letters will not be kerned properly, resulting in slower reading speed.

This issue was addressed in OpenType Font format, introducing a new "CapitalSpacing" property. From the tutorial:

Capital letters are typically designed to blend with lowercase letters. Spacing that appears attractive between a capital letter and a lowercase letter may look too tight when all capital letters are used. The following text displays normal and capital spacing for the Pescadero font: enter image description here

Obviously, when one hand-writes in all-capital letters, he or she intuitively uses the correct amount of letter spacing, so the problem of "too tight text" never appears.

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