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Editing Headlines

How to Edit Headings, Headlines and Captions
Never underestimate the importance of supporting material such as headings, captions, tables, contents lists, indexes, appendixes and blurbs. These are the things that catch the eye of a browsing customer.
People today are busier than ever and more likely to skim your writing rather than read every word slowly from beginning to end.
If you want to catch a readers attention, and convince them to slow down and properly read what you have written; you need to engage them strongly with the headings!
Confusing headings, poorly written captions, an unappealing blurb, overly brief or overly detailed indexes, and the like, will quickly turn off all but the keenest buyer.

These small but important inclusions are the reader’s signposts, providing a quick and efficient means for the author to communicate the broad content of the text, and to summarise and explain important points along the way. 

However, despite the importance of supporting material, many writers put very little thought into this aspect of their writing. Some writers do not realise the necessity for logical, clearly presented supporting material. Others regard it as the editor’s role to tidy up these loose ends (and indeed it is, but perhaps not to the extent as many writers would believe!). But for most writers they have simply run out of steam, having already spent many hours labouring on the text.

Whatever the reasons for incomplete or poor supporting material, the editor must thoroughly check what they have in hand, and identify and rectify any problems. In some cases this will mean writing the copy for headings, captions and any other incomplete material.

Particular attention should be given to typos and misspellings in the prelims, especially major headings and peoples’ names, at both the manuscript and proofing stages – as unlikely as it may seem, such errors do get missed by authors, editors and proofreaders until the book or document is actually printed.

Careful attention should also be given to captions, because even if the reader decides not to bother with the main text, they will almost certainly look at the pictures and explanatory captions. Edit captions for length and interest – make sure they are succinct and relevant to the illustration and the main text.

Some important points for editing supporting material are discussed below.

The copy editor needs to ensure that headings and subheadings are correctly written, logically organised and consistent throughout the document. 

Some general rules on heading sizes and spacing:

  • The setting style (type size, font, spacing, etc) of main headings, including chapter titles, prelim headings (‘Contents’, ‘Preface’) and endmatter headings (‘Index’, ‘Appendix’) is usually the same throughout the document.
  • There should be less space below a heading than above it.
  • The space above a heading varies with its importance, eg. a centred major heading has more space above it than subheadings.

Headlines in newspaper and magazines are vitally important. They must be succinct and have high impact, without competing with the newspaper nameplate. They must be relevant to the main text and use appropriate language which can be readily understood by readers. Because they are set in large type, the editor should double check they are correctly spelt.
It is the subeditor’s role to ensure all of the above. Good skills in writing punchy, attention-grabbing headlines are well regarded in the newspaper and magazine industries, and anyone considering working in this area should practise writing and editing headlines and subheadings.

Some points to consider:

  • The most important articles have the biggest headlines.
  • The biggest headlines should be placed towards the top of the page to avoid an unbalanced, bottom-heavy layout.
  • Avoid hyphens in headlines and subheadings by using short words.
In most cases it is the author’s responsibility to write the captions, but often the editor does it to save time. If cross-references to pictures are used in the text, make sure they correspond to figure numbers in the captions. Avoid using page numbers in cross-references where possible, as they are expensive to insert (they can only be inserted after the page proofs are prepared) and may require further changes in revised editions of the document. 
Opportunities for Editing and Proof Reading
A good editor or proof reader is a valued asset for any publisher; and one that can reconstruct powerful headings is even more valued. With powerful headings, publications sell better; impress advertisers or sponsors more; and encourage readers to keep coming back.
If you are wanting to learn to be an editor or proof reader; contact our staff to find out what is involved.

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