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Several sources recommend capitalizing and formatting references to UI element labels just as they appear in the UI. My question is how should I capitalize categorical references to the information I want users to enter. For example, there is an Agency Name field and an Agency State field on my form. How would I capitalize references to the values that go in those fields in the following instruction? "You must enter an agency name if an agency state has been selected. Please enter an agency name." Should I leave the references lowercase because I am asking for an agency name value to be placed in the Agency Name field, or should I use title case and bold to direct attention to the fields in which the values will be entered? "You must enter an Agency Name if an Agency State has been selected. Please enter an Agency Name."

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A disclaimer first: I'm firmly in the camp of people that believes we should write labels, buttons, headings and other UI elements the same way we would write a sentence. This means "Sentence case", as opposed to "Title Case".

Having said that, I'd write it like this:

You must enter an agency name if an agency state has been selected. Please enter an agency name.

In this case, you'd want to put emphasis on those two words. Depending on the context, you could achieve this by making them bold, putting them in red, underlining, italics, etc.

This, I think, makes it easiest to read and scan.

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  • The correct styling would be italic (using the <i> tag), per W3C: "The <i> element represents a span of text in an alternate voice or mood, or otherwise offset from the normal prose, such as a taxonomic designation, a technical term, an idiomatic phrase from another language, a thought, a ship name, or some other prose whose typical typographic presentation is italicized."
    – Erics
    Jul 29 '14 at 7:04
  • Fair enough, but I made it bold because in this line, italic didn't stand out as much. Scanning is easier when it's bold, imo.
    – Dirk v B
    Jul 29 '14 at 7:19
  • In other words, <i> might be the semantically correct tag, in this case, I would suggest styling said tag in a way that it stands out more. (pardon, was a second too late in editing my previous comment)
    – Dirk v B
    Jul 29 '14 at 7:24
  • The W3C has you covered for that case too: "You should always bear in mind that the content of a b element may not always be bold, and that of an i element may not always be italic. The actual style is dependent on the CSS style definitions" ;-)
    – Erics
    Jul 29 '14 at 8:04
  • That said, it is the "Please enter an agency name." string which should be in bold, not the background reasoning why.
    – Erics
    Jul 29 '14 at 8:05

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