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Bringing a headline to a full stop

By Kim Harrison,

Consultant, Author and Principal of www.cuttingedgepr.com

Some people like to put a full stop (also called a period) to mark the end of a headline sentence; others never do. Advertising graphic designers like to use a full stop because advertising headlines frequently form sentences and therefore a full stop could be appropriate. However, newspaper and magazine headlines rarely form sentences and therefore don’t need full stops. 

When the headline does form a complete sentence, should a full stop be used or not?

No one knew the facts on this question, so legendary advertising figure, David Ogilvy, asked Colin Wheildon to research this for him. Wheildon was editor of Australia’s largest motoring publication with one million readers and had researched many aspects of typography and layout.

cTo find out whether the full stop in a headline affects readers’ comprehension, four different advertising pages were printed, with each design being in two formats – one with the headline full-stopped and the other without. The content of the two advertisement designs was identical, mostly comprising text.

There were no significant differences in comprehension between the designs. However, there were differences in comprehension between the headlines:

Headline without full stop 71% good comprehension
Headline with full stop 58% good comprehension

 

The lesson from this is never to use full stops or periods in headline sentences.

After the project was completed, the members of the sample were questioned on their reactions to the material. Those who read the headlines with full stops were conscious of the punctuation mark, and commented on it.

Approximately 22% of the total sample said they realized they were reading an advertisement when they came to a full stop, even though they were not aware of the content at that point.

Ten per cent of the sample indicated this discovery reduced their intention to concentrate on reading the material.

Twelve per cent of the sample indicated that they found the use of the full stops unnatural, and wondered why they had been used. Six per cent of the sample said the full stop indicated to them that there was no need to read any more of the message. The headline told them enough.

Reader reasons for the lower effectiveness of using a full stop:

- The full stop tends to pull up some readers with a jerk, and indicates to them there is no need to read on.

- The full stop indicates to some readers that what follows is advertising material, and in their minds, not as worthwhile as editorial material.

 

(Although Colin Wheildon’s original book is out of print, a new edition has been recently published and is available at Amazon.com under the title: Type & Layout: how typography and design can get your message across - or get in the way. Author Colin Wheildon, editor Mal Warwick.The Worsley Press, Publishers. Second edition, March 2005. Soft cover, 176 pages. Price: US$36.95. ISBN: 1875750223)

 

This article is one of a series on publication design and typography in the “Core PR skills” area of www.cuttingedgepr.com

 

About the Author

Kim Harrison is a recognized authority in the public relations field. His website, www.cuttingedgepr.com, provides a wealth of informative articles and resources on public relations techniques and management.

 

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