[guest post by Cindy Parker]

But are some headlines memorable for all the wrong reasons?

One obvious explanation is carelessness at the proofreading stage. Errors can creep in during the writing process, and the eagle eye of the editor fails to pick them up and correct them before publication This can be problematic if you write and edit your own work. It can be so easy to overlook grammar, spelling and other errors. In this article, we consider 5 common headline mistakes and how to avoid them.

1. Incorrect grammar

The headline “What if the moon wasn’t made of rock?” sounds convincing, but in fact, it is grammatically incorrect. The verb should be in the subjunctive mood, and the headline should read “What if the moon weren’t made of rock?” Agreement between subject(s) and verb should also be checked, as in this example: “Judge and jury decides Langton is guilty”. The two subjects together are plural, and so the verb should be “decide.”

2. Misspelling of proper names

Many articles focus on a single person, or a geographical location, or a significant event. Proper names are notoriously tricky to spell, and this is especially true if they originate in a language or culture that is not known to the writer. The impressively academic headline “Was Nietsche a National Socialist?” is quite seriously undermined by the fact that the philosopher’s name is Nietzsche. This type of error damages the author’s credibility, because it betrays a superficial awareness of the subject matter of the article.

Celebrity names are also something of a minefield for headline writers. “Kendell Jenner and Harry Styles call it quits again” would be a good headline, were it not for the error in spelling Ms Jenner’s first name. Australian place-names can also be a trap for the unwary: take great care when spelling Diaupur, Upotipotpon and Booti Booti. Your spell-check function may not pick up misspellings of names, and so careful proofreading of all proper names is a must.

3. Repetition

Repetition can be a useful stylistic feature in a long text. In a headline, however, any kind of repetition is inadvisable. The famous example “Highway 4 bypass overpass bypassed” is quite extreme, and could easily lead to reader confusion. Admittedly, this headline is amusing, but its meaning is lost in the profusion of similar words.

4. Syntactical ambiguity

The structure of a headline is very important. Careless syntax can lead to double meanings, as in this example: “Driver helps crocodile bite victim”. The word “helps” can refer to the crocodile or the victim. This headline should be restructured to make it clear that the driver is not an accessory to the crocodile’s crime, for example: “Crocodile bite victim helped by driver” or “Driver helps victim of crocodile bite”.

5. Sloppy punctuation

Everyone knows that the customary rules of punctuation are not always applied to headlines. It is quite acceptable to use a comma instead of the word “and”: “Celebrity condemns social media platforms Facebook, Twitter”. In this case the comma saves valuable printing space. Similarly, a colon can be used between two similar thoughts, such as “Heartbreaking decision: Caroline gives child up for adoption”. If two contrasting thoughts occur in a headline, they can be linked using a semi-colon like this: “Cream is the new Black; Beige gets honourable mention”.

These space-saving uses of punctuation are widely accepted, but this does not mean that anything goes. Take the apostrophe, for example. It has three main functions: to indicate one or more missing letters, as in: “We’ve never had it so good”; to indicate possession or a close relationship, for example: “Prime Minister’s assistant arrested”; or in expressions of time or quantity, for example: “Footballer gets 30 days’ leave”. Apostrophes are also wrongly used to indicate plurals: “Illegal video’s found in Perth cinema” is a typical example.

These five tips should help you to avoid unnecessary errors in headlines. A final piece of advice is to read and re-read your work. There’s no excuse for headline mistakes!


** About the Author: Cindy Parker is the professional writer and Content Specialist. She loves to write about small businesses, education and languages. Currently, she works for Learn to trade, a currency trading education company based in Australia.


Image source: Freepik