A colon introduces a list or a related idea. We’ll save the use of colons with lists for another tip.
Observe the example in the graphic at left. What follows the colon is a idea that relates to the idea communicated in the phrase preceding the colon. The colon indicates that what follows it relates to what precedes it.
A semicolon also connects together two complete, related ideas. What then distinguishes the colon from the semicolon? Often the word proceeding the colon is a noun that encapsulates or embodies what follows it. And often that condition doesn’t hold for the semicolon.
My experience shows that, unless using a phrase like the following directly before a colon, using a noun directly before a colon is good practice. It forces the writer to think about the construction of the sentence and the elements used in that construction. Sometimes the ideas desired to be conveyed can be more effectively communicated through other punctuation and grammatical choices.
Note that in our example sentence the noun decision embodies what follows the colon. Using Alloy X-35 is the decision of the selection committee. Thus, the use of the colon here is appropriate.
In most cases, the writer may choose to capitalize the first letter of the first word that immediately follows the colon. In other words, capitalizing that first word after the colon is optional. In this particular example, however, the writer must capitalize that first word since Alloy X-35 is a proper noun.
My recommendation on capitalization is to consider the purpose of your document. The use of capitalization connotes a certain formality which is appropriate in technical, business, and other professional writing. Thus, only in the most informal of instances would I recommend not capitalizing that first word.
So remember that a colon is more than two periods. Use it appropriately, and you’ll send an image of professionalism that you want for you and your business brand.