The secret to a professional-looking headline

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When I’m editing material for clients, here’s the most common mistake I see: they haven’t set a consistent style for headlines and subheads.

If your headline doesn’t follow a proper style, your publication won’t look professionally edited. What do I mean by that? Well, there are two fundamental type of heads — upstyle and down style ones.

Upstyle heads look like this one, from the New York Times:

Regulators Mess With Bankers’ Minds, and That’s Good

As you can see, just about all words — even inconsequential ones, such as “with” — are capitalized.  The only word left in lowercase is “and.”

If the same head were presented downstyle, it would look like this:

Regulators mess with bankers’ minds, and that’s good

Only the first word is capitalized. Even in downstyle, however, proper nouns are still capitalized no matter where they appear. For example, here is another New York Times head, this time rendered downstyle: Curtis Sittenfeld knows she’s no Jane Austen. The proper names Curtis Sittenfeld and Jane Austen both appear with their expected caps.

Both upstyle and downstyle are utterly correct. The only thing that would be incorrect would be to be inconsistent — switching willy nilly from upstyle to downstyle.

Personally? I prefer downstyle because it looks less fussy and slightly more contemporary to me. But if you want to go for upstyle then do it. It’s simply a matter of taste. But be consistent. Whichever style you choose, make sure you stick by it for your entire article or publication.

If ever I see an article with inconsistency in its headline style, I know for sure it hasn’t been professionally edited.

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