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Choosing titles carefully

Maybe it’s just me, but I always prefer to learn things myself before I get a sales pitch from someone, so I always look at a company’s website before I speak to them.

I just received an email which was about a tool I could potentially use for one of my clients. So I went to their website to find out more about this tool.

As it turns out, I couldn’t find anything about the tool on their site – and I didn’t really like the site much to be honest, but that’s a different story!

Latest news

Spiders and webs over a news key

Old news doesn’t have the power of fresh news – be careful with the expectations you build

Whilst on one page, a comment about them moving caught my eye. It was actually a heading to a news item, showing as a news feed under the title of ‘Latest News’.

Next to the heading was the date of the news item – March 2012. Not exactly a recent move then!

All the other news items in the rotation were older, dating from late 2011 to early 2012.

Staying current

News that is over two years old isn’t fresh or current.

I get that keeping a website/blog/social media platform up to date can be hard work and takes a lot of dedication (hey, I know I haven’t blogged very often this year myself!)

However, it doesn’t look good to prospective clients if the supposedly fresh part of the site is very old. In fact, being years old can look worse than not having a blog or such at all.

The lack of freshness can be minimised though by a careful choice of title.

‘Latest news’ leads people to expect current stories – two year old stories looks unprofessional and made me wonder if the business could deliver promised digital solutions.

Some better titles may have been:

  • things of note
  • points of interest
  • our news archive
  • our blog posts
  • {company name} updates
  • {company name} news

Although the news and updates titles still give some expectation of fairly current stories.

My next blog post will give other suggestions for improving such a situation, but in the meantime, what other titles can you think of for an old news feed?

How would you react to such old news when assessing a potential supplier’s website?

Check your titles

I saw some You Tube videos this morning with my son and one stood out for all the wrong reasons.

As the video started, a title screen showed “Here’s are friend”. After rereading it, I decided it was meant to be “Here’s our friend” and the lyrics within the following video confirmed my assumption.

The associated description included some more gems, such as “go’es” and “cellerbrate” and “there” instead of “their”.

In this case, it was not a business and professionalism probably wasn’t a major concern for the video poster. However, if you are going to the trouble to make a video and put it online for people to view, surely it’s worth the time to get the title correct?

Errors in content are not desirable but major errors in a title destroy credibility and may prevent anyone moving beyond the title so having good grammar and spelling in a title is important.

Have you seen poorly written titles that stopped you using that resource (document, video, etc)?

The grammar of blog headings

It may seem like a strange blog heading, the grammar of blog headings, but I was asked the question so here is my answer!

Headings and gramamrThe heading or title of a blog post is usually the first thing someone will see and has a huge impact on whether anyone reads the actual content of the post, and therefore on the success of that blog post. Making it enticing is worth spending some time on, and you don’t want to undo those efforts by using inappropriate grammar and spelling.

So what is the correct format for a blog heading?

  1.  Do not write it all in capital letters – that is considered to be yelling and therefore arrogant, plus it is harder to read anyway
  2. Unless you have a formal and old-fashioned brand style, use sentence case rather than title case for the heading – that is, use as few capital letters as is necessary
  3. Use basic grammar and punctuation rules such as a capital letter for a noun, match plural/singular nouns and verbs, and put apostrophes in the correct places
  4. Check all words are spelt correctly
  5. Make sure the title makes sense. Titles can sometimes have fewer words than an equivalent sentence (e.g. ‘the grammar of blog headings’ is fine for a title but in the body of a post I need to add more such as ‘the grammar of a blog heading can impact on your credibility.’) but include enough words to convey the meaning (I couldn’t use ‘The grammar blog headings’ for instance)
Have you noticed bad grammar in any titles? How did that impact on you reading that blog post (or article)?

What is title case?

Style guides and related documents sometimes specify a system of capital letter use.

Word processing packages often give four styles to choose from:

  • all lower case
  • ALL UPPER CASE
  • Title Case
  • Sentence case

The first two are fairly self-explanatory but here is a definition of the other two common case styles.

Title case – traditionally used for the titles of everything (books, plays, movies, etc), title case has a capital letter for the start of every significant word – where words like and, of, the and a are not counted as significant. {If every word begins with a capital letter, we call it start case.}
The Little House on the Prairie
One Flew Over the Cuckoo Nest
Breakfast at Tiffany’s

Sentence case – just like you use in most sentences, only the first word and any proper nouns start with a capital letter.
The little house on the prairie
One flew over the cuckoo’s nest
Breakfast at Tiffany’s

Sentence case is the default now for most writing, including headings.

Capitalising job titles

A few months ago someone asked me (as a comment in a blog post) about capitalising the words in a job title.

My response, in summary, was that job titles don’t need to be capitalised although it is not technically wrong to do so. The exceptions being a title as part of a name (e.g. Doctor Jones) and someone in a key national role (e.g. Prime Minister, Treasurer).

I also noted that some companies list capital letters for extra words as part of their corporate style guide. Thus, we get companies writing about their Managing Director, Marketing Manager and Company when managing director, marketing manager and company would be perfectly acceptable and easier to read.

While I respect that each company can set their own brand, what annoys me is the inconsistency of such capitalisation. That is, most (maybe all!) of those companies would quite happily write about Jack the receptionist, Simone the cleaner and Justine the forklift driver while referring to Craig the Chairman and Mary the Operations Manager.

It annoys me because it is inconsistent (and therefore distracting and harder to read) but also because I find it disrespectful. Using capital letters is usually done as a sign of respect to the person in the job – does a receptionist, cleaner or forklift driver not deserve respect as well? And for anyone who says a Marketing Manager is more important than a receptionist, I ask if you could manage a busy switchboard or how you view companies you call where the receptionist doesn’t do a good job.

So, while I prefer to not use capitals for titles, if you do capitalise titles please be sure to capitalise them all.

Over using keywords in articles

Yesterday, I wrote about using keywords in articles to help search engines find your articles. I also explained that using to many keywords makes the article unreadable for humans and may get search engines penalising you/your site.

The following are examples of the over use of keywords to remind us that the focus of promotional articles should be on giving information rather than making a sale or increasing website traffic (as much as we love those results!)

example 1 – a title for an article: 

Tractor Parts,Hydraulic Coupling,Hydraulic Pumps,Lubricating Oil Pump,Tractor Spare Parts,Tractorul UTB Spares 

Not a very interesting title is it?

example 2 – content of an article:

Just search on your computer with Keywords like Packers and Movers in Ahmedabad Packers Movers Ahmedabad, Relocation service provider in Ahmedabad, etc. Many service provider of that particular state will appear on your computer screen. Collect information from all the relocation Ahmedabad companies and hire the best one. You can also do the same work to find out service provider of other state and city.

There is nothing informative or interesting in that snippet, and its a lttle insulting as someone has probably already searched those keywords to have found the article in the first place!

example 3 – a bio box:

crib bedding, crib bedding sets

Apart from not doing much to promote their business, this bio box is boring and doesn’t develop trust or credibility.

 

Of course, the use of keywords (and avoiding over use of them) applies to blog posts, newsletters, website content and so on just as much as to promotional articles.

Capital letters

to CAPITAL or not to capital, that is the question

Pardon changing the Bard’s words, but this is a question that needs asking much more often …

I suspect the increased use of SMS and chat shorthand is a major factor, but it seems that many people aren’t sure about when to use capital letters in their writing. So here is a quick summary of when to use a capital letter:

  • for the word I – this word must always be written as a capital letter, to do otherwise looks out of place and attracts attention to the lack of attention to detail. As part of an SMS message, I might accept it, but I leave websites where they repeatedly use a lower case i
  • to start a sentence – this helps make it clear it is a new sentence and this in turn makes it easier to understand the message and individual ideas
  • for all proper nouns – that is, any word that is the name of something specific for example Tash, Melbourne, Australia, Australians and Word Constructions. It does not include generic names such as mothers, business owners, writers, city or students.* Note that the word I is actually a proper noun so my first point is covered here but it was worth a separate point!
  • in acronyms – where just the first letter of each word is used to represent the name of something. For instance, the ATO represents the Australian Tax Office and ASAP represents as soon as possible. It doesn’t matter if the full title uses capitals or not, acronyms generally use capitals (sometimes a business may choose to brand themselves with a lower case acronym)
  • the start of speech, even if it is not the start of a sentence. For example, she said “We must pay attention to the use of capital letters.”
  • days of the week and names of months, as well as names of specific periods of history (e.g. the Second World War, the Depression)
  • titles of books, articles, movies and so on can be written in title case (e.g. Full Moon Rising) or just with a starting capital letter (e.g. Confessions of a supermom)

Capitals letters are sometimes also used within names (e.g. AvSuper, MacGregor), in scientific terminology (e.g. E. Coli, Eucalyptus, cyclone Tracy) and where two words have been abbreviated into one (e.g. eBooks, eLearning.)

There are variations in some of these rules, especially if you travel to another country but using these guidelines will avoid any major errors! Or call upon someone to check your writing for you – errors that requires conscious effort for you to find often are quite obvious to others, especially to someone like me who spots such things without trying.

Edited to add: I came across a fun poster with the basic capital letter uses, which is great for kids and anyone struggling to remember these rules.

Learn more writing tips from the Writing Well eBook

* The use of a generic noun as a proper noun requires a capital letter, too. So while mothers is written in lower case, a capital letter applies in the following sentence: Mary said “Hello Mother. How are you?” Likewise, you may write about a library (generic) or the Ashburton Library (specific).

Quotation marks

Have you ever noticed how many unnecessary quotation marks are used?

I once wrote the following as a guest blogger:

Quotation marks seem to be fashionable at the moment, which is a shame as they are being used so badly! “Recommended by doctors and mothers” makes me feel like they are telling me a lie – if it is a genuine statement, why does it need to be in quotation marks?

Quotation marks are correctly used to: 

– indicate you are quoting someone

– indicate speech (e.g. He said “How are you?”)

 – present a title of something

– show the text lacks credibility or truth, or at least is not verifiable (e.g. The media release stated the product was “superior”)

If you are tempted to use quotation marks for emphasis, try bold, italics, underline, colour, indenting or size of font instead – it will stand out more and not send any incorrect messages!

So I was rather amused when I came across a blog dedicated to silly use of quotation marks. I hope you enjoy seeing these grammatical blunders, as well as getting tips for your own writing!