3 Worst Places to Make Grammar Mistake: News Headline, Report Title, Email Subject Line

www.RuthlessEditor.comNews headlines draw us into a story. Report titles summarize what our readers can expect. Email subject lines should do both.

That’s why these are the three worst places to make a grammar error.

Here are four headlines that don’t pass my Ruthless Editor grammar test and how they could be better:

1. Bill Nye Only Needs 10 Seconds To Explain The Toughest Science Theories

The problem: misplaced modifier

Modifiers are words that add meaning or clarification. The emphasis of this headline is the minimal amount of time Science Guy Bill Nye needs to explain complex science theories.

Modifiers should be placed close to — preferably next to — the words they modify.

The solution:

Bill Nye Needs Only 10 Seconds To Explain The Toughest Science Theories

2. France’s Political Parties Are Banding Together To Stop Le Pen

The problem: redundancy

Not all sources agree — including Grammar Girl — but I consider banding together redundant.

My test for redundancy: Would the opposite descriptor — in this case banding apart instead of banding together — make sense? Do people ever band apart?

Of course not. So there’s no need to clarify that people — or political parties — band together.

As a verb, band is described this way: to unite in a troop; to come together in a group because of a common purpose or belief

Synonyms are to connect, to join, to unite, to merge.

The solution:

France’s Political Parties Unite To Stop Le Pen

3. Stabbing At Flint Airport Deemed Potential Act Of Terrorism By FBI

The problem: This wording could be interpreted as the FBI having committed a potential act of terrorism.

The solution:

FBI Deems Flint Airport Stabbing Potential Act of Terrorism

FBI Deems Stabbing At Flint Airport Potential Act of Terrorism

4. Poll After ‘Obamacare’ Vote: McCain Is More Popular With Dems Than GOP

The problem: Who is more popular with whom?

Is the claim that McCain is more popular with the Democrats than the GOP is with the Democrats?

Or is it that McCain is more popular with the Democrats that he is with the GOP?

The solution:

Poll After Obamacare Vote: McCain More Popular With Dems Than With GOP

News cycles rapidly, and writers are under pressure to publish stories in minimal time.

Yet when I read these headlines, it took me just seconds to recognize there was a better way to compose them.

Whether you’re reporting the news, writing a title for a report, or crafting an email subject line, allow time to review what you’ve written. You’ll be more likely to catch these kinds of oversights that avoid detection when you write in haste.

If you see silly or questionable headlines, please send them to me:


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Kathy Watson

Kathy Watson has a love/hate relationship with grammar; she loves words and the punctuation that helps them make sense, yet she hates those pesky rules. A self-proclaimed ruthless editor, she prefers standard usage guidelines of The Associated Press Stylebook. Her easy-to-use Grammar for People Who Hate Rules helps people write and speak with authority and confidence. She encourages and welcomes questions and comments. (Email)