Quick Tip:
Get Out of the Headline Rut

We do things the way we’ve always done them because we’ve always done them that way.

Anonymous

Do you always format your headlines the same way? If your answer is “yes,” I bet they look like this …

This Is My Headline
I Always Format My Headlines Like This

This formatting style works, doesn’t it? Well, it might not be the best way to do it all the time. Here are two alternate ways to format your headlines that may be more attractive and easier to read:

1. Change the capitalization scheme.

The most common way we format headlines is by capitalizing every word. This is called “Title Caps” – and it’s how I did the sample headline above. It works fairly well, especially if set in a sans serif font like Arial.

But this formatting can be difficult to read, especially if the headline is long. Instead, consider the “old fashioned” way of using Title Caps. This is where you don’t capitalize 2- and 3-letter articles and prepositions. The uncapitalized “little words” make it easier to scan the text.

It looks like this …

This Is an Alternative Way to Use
“Title Caps.” Leaving Some of the Words
Uncapitalized Makes the Headline Easier to Read.

You can also set your headline in “Sentence Case.” You capitalize only the first word of a headline sentence and any other words (like people’s names) that are supposed to be capitalized. This is often better than Title Caps.

It looks like this …

Another alternative is to use
“Sentence Case.” Since this is how we’re
used to reading, it is the easiest way to read a headline.

2. Change the justification.

Headlines should be centered, right? Not necessarily. Left-justifying a multi-line headline makes it feel less like a headline. It also gives it a more formal feel, especially when set in a sans serif font.

This type of headline, when set against
an image to its immediate left, can
feel formal and elegant.

Right justification is not commonly used for headlines – and you can see why here …

Right justification encourages the reader
to look off the page … instead of leading
him into the copy.

You should never fully justify a headline. (This is where the left and right margins are smooth.) If done with a large font, the spacing usually looks bad. But even if you have enough copy in a small font, fully justified text looks too manufactured to be effective for headlines.

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Published: December 31, 2007

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