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When adding a legal notice to a user interface, or in a data file for download, I want to include a legal warning. It needs to mention that the data is confidential and it should not be shared with 3rd parties.

The text I proposed was something like this:

The data in this table is confidential and should only be used in the scope of this collaboration. DO NOT SHARE!

My colleague is quite opposed to using all caps, they perceived it as abrupt, shouting and unprofessional. From my experience, the all caps is common practice and the preferred way to emphasise in legal notices, i.e. instead of more stylish typographical changes like italics or bold.

What do you think? Is my colleague right, and I am remembering things from TV and books instead of real life business documents?

Thanks.

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(My background is that as a software engineer, I have read and written many such notices).

Data File or Download

All caps is used in many licenses for emphasis, for example in the GPL, MIT License and BSD family of licenses (and probably many, many more, but those are the ones that come to mind, and I have checked them).

Licenses are often written in nothing but ASCII, limiting the typographical choices for emphasis severely. Other options would include letter spacing (sperrsatz), but this is (nowadays) usually reserved for headings.

I would find the notice as given entirely appropriate. You might even consider setting the whole notice in all caps.

You also regularly see phrases like "ALL RIGHTS RESERVED" in all caps.

Remember that in ASCII, typography is even more limited than with a typewriter. You can not double stroke to create boldface, you can not underline by moving the carriage back and re-typing on the same line with underscores. You don't have italics. Spacing and all caps are pretty much the only options for emphasis, but spacing often does not look that good. Compare:

The data in this table is confidential and should only be used in the 
scope of this collaboration. DO NOT SHARE!
The data in this table is confidential and should only be used in the  
scope of this collaboration.  D O   N O T   S H A R E !
The data in this table is confidential and should only be used in the  
scope of this collaboration.  D o   n o t   s h a r e !

The last two are unnecessarily hard to parse, especially when viewing the document in a reader that ignores consecutive whitespace like a browser (note that I had to set the text as code block to get verbatim monospace formatting).

When using Unicode, one might opt to use narrower spaces. Note that in the font used here, whitespace, thin space and hair space have the same length (I tried using narrower spaces), and are much harder to type. Also, hair spaces are not supported by all browsers or other readers/text editors. For compatibility reasons, it is best to only use the normal whitespace.

So yeah, given the limited options for emphasis in such notes and given that all caps is the accepted form for emphasis in many open source licenses, I do not see a reason not to use all caps for emphasis.

User Interface / Rich Text Documents

However, if the interface you are displaying in supports other forms of emphasis, like boldface, these are very worth exploring. Especially bold can draw the eye of the reader immediately to the "do not share" phrase, even better than all caps.

Compare:

The data in this table is confidential and should only be used in the scope of this collaboration. DO NOT SHARE!

The data in this table is confidential and should only be used in the scope of this collaboration. Do not share!

Emphasizing legal notes like "do not share" in business documents is standard practice and not something to worry about. I wouldn't even think twice about it if I read such a notice. In fact, I'd probably find it odd if it was not emphasized, because that runs the risk of me inadvertently not seeing the notice.

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In some jurisdictions there are specific requirements about particular things being all caps in legal documents, e.g. I am led to believe that in the US (or some states, I'm not sure which) an exclusion of liability in an end user contract must be in all caps; the style is also use to draw attention to terms that are given specific definitions elsewhere in the document. This is probably why you have seen this before, and has little or nothing to do with emphasis, but rather drawing attention to something unusual or unexpected. This doesn't seem to be the case in your text, so I would suggest not using them here.

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    @nd "has little or nothing to do with emphasis, but rather drawing attention to something unusual or unexpected." Drawing attention to something unusual or unexpected is literally why emphasis exists and is used. – Polygnome Mar 4 at 20:29

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