Headline writing: Punctuation and splits
Putting punctuation and splits into the same lesson may seem odd, but the two fit together in an important way: The best headlines have lines that work independently and fluidly. The easiest way to achieve that is to follow some simple guidelines.
Punctuation: Use semicolons where you would usually use periods (most of the time), and use single quotes where you would use double quotes in copy. For instance:
Student Senate meets with Hemenway;
long-term tuition policy nears approval
Troupe puts a twist on ‘Oliver’
Strive to keep all punctuation except hyphens at the ends of lines. Don’t use a hyphen at the beginning or the end of a line. The Student Senate example above shows the proper approach with semicolons and hyphens. Work hard to avoid lines that split words the way this one does:
Senate seeks long-
term tuition policy
Splits: A split headline is one in which parts of verb, adjectival or prepositional phrases are on different lines. You can’t always avoid splits, especially with one-column headlines. And if your choice is between a stilted headline that doesn’t split and a more fluid one that does, you may be better off splitting the lines. Before you resort to that, though, see whether you can’t modify the design of a page to give yourself additional space.
The biggest problem with splits is that they can impede understanding. In some cases, the result is downright comical. For example:
College may ban sex
offenders from dorms
Man surrenders in bus
stop abduction of teen
Often, you can avoid splits by making a few adjustments:
City plans to
Also try to avoid ending lines of headlines with prepositions, especially the first line of a multi-line head.
Sometimes, though, especially in one-column headlines, you are forced to choose between a split phrase and clarity. Always choose clarity. For example, here’s an example of an awkward split headline. Beneath it is an alternative. It includes a split prepositional phrase, but the phrasing is much more fluid.
in case of
For additional help with headlines, see my Focus on Web Heads under Downloads.