About inconsistency: US and UK headline style

If you’re a regular here, you may have already read that I’ve worked as an editor and copy editor. And if you’ve worked as either one and scrolled through the site, what will jump out at you are not my screamingly irrelevant photos but my screamingly inconsistent headline style. Not to mention the editorial sins I commit in a smaller typeface.

What’s going on? I retired, that’s what. I turned in my Chicago Manual of Style. Really. I no longer own a copy, either current or out of date. That’s the bookcase equivalent of saying, “Screw it.”

Irrelevant photo: Late winter landscape. Yes, that's grass. It's been sitting there, green, all winter.

Irrelevant photo: Late winter landscape. Yes, that’s grass. It’s been sitting there, green, all winter.

So where do I go to check my style decisions? Nowhere. On some days when I’m writing a headline I capitalize the first word after the colon and on other days I decide not to. For the most part, I’ve stopped using the American style, which capitalizes all the words in a headline except for the ones that never get capitalized because the rules are complex and copy editors need to prove we know something the rest of you don’t or why else would anyone hire us? The British headline style is simpler. As far as I’ve decoded it, it treats the headline like a sentence, which is great because you don’t have to worry about all those American exceptions: Everything but the first word and the proper nouns is lower case.

Ah, but what about the first word after a colon? I’ll break down and confess: I haven’t checked whether it’s capped or lower case because—cue maniacal laughter—I’m retired and I don’t have to.

It’s not that I don’t notice the inconsistencies in my headlines, and it’s not exactly that I don’t have a headline style, it’s just that on any given day I’m likely to decide that I don’t like the style I was using so why don’t I change it—without going back and changing the old ones so they conform?

Of course, once fussbudgetty editorial thinking lodges in your head, it doesn’t vacate willingly, so I haven’t danced unthinkingly off into inconsistency. I’ve danced off while throwing explanations and disguised apologies over my shoulder. So, sorry folks. I am thinking. I am noticing. I just don’t care enough anymore.

21 thoughts on “About inconsistency: US and UK headline style

  1. ‘Screw it’ is a perfect mantra for shedding much about earlier chapters we no longer want to re-visit in our post-career years.

    I finished The Divorce Diet; just gave it a 5-star review on Amazon; and have blog post scheduled for this Thursday to recommend it to my blogging buddies. Truly a fun read!


  2. For me, blogging is about enjoying what I’m doing and if I worry too much about conventions and style, then I lose me and there’s no fun in that. So I don’t worry about it, mostly, although I often see that I’ve not capitalized every word in my post title and I go back and “fix” it. Old habits die hard.


  3. I briefly worked for a bi-weekly newspaper in a small Texas town covering social news (weddings and anniversaries, little Jimmy’s third birthday, etc.) and girls’ sports. Talk about a fun gig! I learned and then promptly forgot so much.


  4. … and this is where I would have to admit I’ve never had more than a passing acquaintance with grammar rules. I like to think of rules more as “suggestions”.
    My niece – a PhD student – once edited a manuscript I was working on. Within a few hours it became a sea of corrections. Two years later the manuscript is still sitting there untouched with all her “suggestions”. It’s become my hidden scarlett letter of grammatical shame ;)


    • You’d be surprised at how many writers I’ve edited whose grammar was, um, less than outstanding. Yeah, it’s great to have a command of grammar, but it’s even better to have something to say. Sometimes it annoyed me that they weren’t better at it and sometimes I didn’t care–I loved what they were saying. So if what you’ve got to say is worthwhile, surely that outweighs everything else. Just write. Get that manuscript out and ignore the corrections, however helpful they were meant to be.


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