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The Editor's view of the news

Apostrophes in Headlines Are Bad

I really don’t like apostrophes in headlines because they often make readers pause. Anything that breaks up the flow of reading is a bad thing.

Recently, a United Nations story came in with two apostrophes in the headline

The Headline was:
NGOs’ Assistance Vital to United Nations’ Battle Against Drugs

I think this is bad because it makes the headline too complex and difficult to read.
Simple style is usually better. Editors need to write good headlines because we are adding value and attracting readers, by making it easy for them to make the decision to click though or continue reading. If we make it difficult for readers, we take away their incentive to read what the writer has to say.

Here are three examples of how the initial headline can be changed – and hopefully improved:
NGO Assistance Vital to UN Battle Against Drugs
NGO Assistance Vital in UN Battle Against Drugs
NGO Assistance Vital in UN Drug Battle

bad headline apostrophe

Apostrophes are bad in headlines

There are many other (better) possibilities too, but in this case, we’re not analyzing the complete story, we are only looking at the headline. We should read the whole story, then make the headline reflect what it is about, and make sure the lead reflects that.

It takes extra time to get the headline right, but it is worth it because a good headline will attract attention and tell the reader if they should take the action to click through and read the story.

A good questions is, why are these three any better than the original?
I like them because they are less complex, more to the point.
Any time you add punctuation, there is the chance that you make the reader slow down or stop. When you do that, you give them an excuse to skip your headline.

A headline with that construct is only OK if you can’t find another way to do it, but if you try hard enough, you can always get around using an apostrophe. Remember, news headlines are special – they don’t have to be perfect English, they can be a little cryptic.

If you see two apostrophes in a headline, I think it is REALLY bad.

If you find a multiple apostrophe headline at NewsBlaze, let me know and I will fix it.


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