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Should street labels/attributes be all upper case or mixed?

June 30 2011 | 2 comments
Categories: Data Modeling, Labeling, Map Data

We are designing a new database and I am torn as to whether we should make all of our attributes all upper case letters or mixed. Obviously, the results will make the map labels all upper case as well. What is best practice? All upper case attributes can eliminate certain grammatical errors. Please advise. Thanks.

Mapping Center Answer:

Mixed!!!  Please!

First, it's been my observation that the only reason we have databases with upper case names is because they are old data, originating in the days before databases could do mixed case.  And now lots of people want to undo that and move to mixed case.

Second, you can always use a UCase() function to display your labels as uppercase; but there is no easy way to convert uppercase to proper or mixed case.  We've written a Script Tool to do that; it's main purpose is to manage exceptions for things like directions (NW, SE, SW, and NE) to standard abbreviations (e.g., U.S.) and those are just the cases that commonly occur in the U.S.  In a nutshell having mixed case leaves all your options available, i.e., it's the most flexible.

Third, the simple fact is, at some point a human being will need to read what is in your database, and in the age of texting, UPPER CASE HAS BECOME YELLING. (And it's arguably harder to read.)

Also, a related best practice is to not abbreviate within your most official representation of a name--you can always automate abbreviations (Maplex has functionality to abbreviate text so you can customize which style of abbreviations you may want--but it's much harder to get to that point if you are parsing already abbreviated text). 

Last, also see this Ask a Cartographer response:

Similar question, but may also be helpful.



Just an observation of my own. posted by Peter Goodman on Jul 1 2011 7:28AM
An observation I made some time back:
If the database will be used to label items, under the text symbol control, if you create a standardized text symbol and save it to a specific Text Style, then you can have it as either Title (Normal or standardized text), or you can set the default labels in the style to ALL CAPS or SMALL CAPS.
The styles I use and have saved to the Style manager must have a mixture of various titles, sizes, colors, point size, font attribute, word spacing, etc, yet come from the same database. (This for various boundary labels.) So I set the text style for a specific type, and then set up a template to allow such control.
It is something I do regularly and it works very nicely, especially with the Maplex Label engine (IF that is what you’re using.)
Beware of Title Case posted by Charlie Frye on Jul 1 2011 8:59AM
It works for some things, but not all things--such as the common abbreviations mentioned above. So, it typically does not work well for street addresses, or place place names like for parks, forests, and such that already contain abbreviations. As organizations produce better data, Title Case will work better more often.

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