Tuesday, August 30, 2011

WHAT DO ALL CAPS MEAN IN A CONTRACT?

It's an exciting time for my husband and me. For the past, ohhhhh, six months or so, we've been looking for a new home, one that we can buy and call our own (read: paint and decorate and stay for more than a year!!).

On Sunday, we finally made a step forward and put money down and signed a contract with a local builder for our new home. We're so excited!!

An ALL CAPS Situation
Of course, being who I am, I went over the contract with a fine-tooth comb, highlighting anything I didn't understand or anything I wanted additional clarification on. For the most part, it was easy to read and easy to follow, but then we got to the last few pages and my eyes went berserk: FOR ALMOST THREE PAGES, EVERYTHING WAS WRITTEN IN COMPLETE CAPS!!

Any tech-savvy person knows that all caps, in today's communication world, means somebody is yelling at you. I can tell you, as much as I knew that the lawyers who wrote this contract were not yelling at me, it was still really hard to read it without a sense of extreme urgency—and after a few pages of that, you get pretty exhausted.

So Why the All Caps?
Then I was curious—why would you put all caps in a contract? Is it supposed to impart a sense of urgency? Of importance? Is it supposed to make you not want to read that part because it's hiding something that if you knew about it, you wouldn't sign the contract (yes, I can be paranoid sometimes)?

Come to find out, its purpose is just the opposite: the all-caps sections of documents are so to alert readers of an important section by being conspicuous—"the little guy" advocates want to ensure that important sections don't get scanned over because they are not pointed out.

If you ask me, it's counterproductive. They should reverse it, making the not-so-important parts be in all caps (that is, harder to read) and the important parts be in regular upper/lowercase fonts. But then, whoever takes the little guy's recommendations? ;)

Sources:
Ask Metafilter: "What do all capital letters in legal documents signify?"
TFL: "All Caps"
Quora: "Why do some parts of legel documents appear in all caps?"

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