Nothing makes an editor cringe as much as seeing a spelling error in a published headline.
In print, there is nothing you can do about it. Online, it used to be that you had a window of opportunity to make a correction, but now, with fast-acting search engines and social media buttons, that window is very small. As soon as someone hits the facebook, twitter, tweetmeme, stumbleupon, care2 or digg button, your horribly awkward headline is set in stone, so to speak. You can fix your copy of it, but the social media networks will keep that error to haunt you the rest of your life.
Writers who self-publish, and editors who vet and publish the work of others need to be very careful, because our reputation is on the line every time we hit that “Publish” button.
Here, I’m only covering the case where the headline has already been written, by the writer, another editor – or ourselves.
If the headline has an error, it causes problems for readers and they may not even bother to click through, unless they miss seeing the error or don’t realize there is one, so it is important to get the headline right.
- wrong word choice that looks like a misspelling
You can scan or proofread a headline. Scanning can give you a quick impression, and you can often see an error, but I see too many errors in published headlines to believe that scanning works. For me, only proofreading works. I have to read the headline, saying it in my head. I read each word and understand the context. This helps me to find and fix both types of error. It is slower than scanning, but as long as I am concentrating, it works every time.
Del Marbrook, who contributes stories to NewsBlaze, edited many print newspapers in his working life. Del recommends that writers and editors read out loud to make sure their sentences and headlines make sense.
Reading, for the purpose of understanding, should help you see headline errors before publishing. Transposed letters and missing letters can be missed if you only do a scan. Of course you can scan and read aloud and miss an error too, so especially at the point of publishing, scanning is a bad idea, unless you have already done the proofreading.
Wrong word choice is a problem too. Sometimes a spelling error and poor word choice are indistinguishable. For example, “affect” and “effect,” or “then” and “than.” The only way to pick up on these errors is to read and understand the headline. You must also understand the meaning of the words and their context.
Many people don’t understand the difference between Affect and Effect, so you must understand the definition of the word, and its context, before using it.
After correcting an error, hopefully before publishing, there is one more thing to do – tell the person who made the error, so they can be aware of it for next time, because everything we do is teamwork.
NewsBlaze has three main editors, three occasional editors, and over 300 registered writers, each with their own skills, so there is plenty of scope to occasionally ruin a headline and make the editor cry.
How do you handle headlines? Can you scan and understand and always find errors?