Headline Errors Hurt Writer’s Credibility

Grammar in headlinesI consider writing headlines an art form.

A headline should grab attention and draw in the reader. It also should be an accurate portrayal of what’s to come. Hyperbole — bait and switch, so to speak — can be a turnoff.

You can write your headline at the start, before you pull your content together, using it to keep you on target.

Or you can write your headline as you finish, reflecting on and summarizing your topic in a few words that invite your reader to continue.

A headline is the worst place to misspell a word or make a grammar faux pas. It signals either lack of knowledge or lack of attention to detail. Either hurts your credibility as a writer.

My latest batch of headline grammar lessons, all from huffingtonpost.com, starts with the good examples.

Must-See TV Shows You Can’t Miss This Fall

This writer knows to hyphenate a compound modifier that precedes a noun: Must-See TV Shows. Check this post for more compound modifier examples.


Are There Enough Jobs? Depends On Whom You Ask.

Few people seem to know the difference between who and whom these days. Or maybe they think whom sounds stuffy. I’m always amazed when I see whom used correctly. In this case, whom is the right choice.

Who is a subject, the doer of the action.
Whom is an object, the receiver of the action.

Whenever you use a preposition, use whom:
To whom should I write?
At whom did he direct his comment?
For whom will you bake a cake?
On whom do you rely for tech support?
By whom was the poem written?
With whom were you sitting?


Obama Says Israel Will Only Be Secure With A Two-State Solution


I’ve written about meandering modifiers before, and only is one of the modifiers most often misplaced. Check item 7 at this link.

On the other hand, this writer (maybe it’s the same one as the Must-See example) knows to hyphenate the compound modifier in Two-State Solution.


Here’s 5 Tech Companies With Fewer Workers Than HP Just Laid Off

Here’s, the contraction for here is, doesn’t work with 5 Tech Companies. Here is / here’s is singular; 5 Companies is plural. It of course should be:

Here Are 5 Tech Companies With Fewer Workers Than HP Just Laid Off

I do give the writer credit for correctly using Fewer Workers (some writer might have said Less Workers; fewer is for things you can count, and less is for quantities).

Headlines offer so many opportunities to examine how we use words and punctuation. I challenge you to watch for headline errors and the grammar lessons they provide.

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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)