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Full Stops (Periods) in Titles

Here’s a quick tip for composing the titles of your posts.

Avoid putting full stops (periods) at the end of your titles.

Most bloggers naturally avoid using them in titles (without giving much thought to it). However from time to time I see them.

Why shouldn’t you use full stops at the end of titles? Isn’t it just a stylistic thing?

No – the reason goes beyond how it looks and is more about the signal that it sends to your reader. Full stops, like their name suggests, are something that halts the eye of your reader.

This isn’t something you want at this point in your post. Titles are all about leading your reader into your post and so anyway that you can help this flow is a bonus.

It might seem like something that’s too small to worry about (and in comparison with other things you could do to improve your blog it’s not a biggie) but it is a pretty established copy writing principle that is universally practised (next time you pick up a newspaper see how many periods in titles you can find).

About Darren Rowse

Darren Rowse is the founder and editor of ProBlogger Blog Tips and Digital Photography School. Learn more about him here and connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn.

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Comments

  1. Marek says:

    I wonder if there are any rules/recommendations on breaking a title in two parts using, e.g., a colon or dash (obviously, a period is not a good idea).

    Marek

  2. Details definitely matter. Thanks for the tip, Darren!

  3. John says:

    Huum, not something i’ve even noticed before, but now that you mention it, I suppose it is a good point, i’ve not seen any full stops in Newspaper titles.

  4. I’d never use a period in a title – just seems common sense I think?? But I’ve never thought about it before.

    I wonder what other ‘common sense’ things I do and don’t do without thinking?

  5. Sebastián says:

    Well, this seems to me… somewhat… uh… silly.

    I don’t think *any* reader in the whole wide world would stop reading because a period at the end, or the middle, of a post title.

    S/he could find the post uninteresting, irrelevant, or misguided. But getting a “message” to stop reading because of a period? Come on, I don’t buy it.

    I like your blog, Darren, but I think you definitely don’t have a point here. Maybe you’re being a little overpsychological (am I getting that word right? I speak Spanish, not English).

    I want to be constructive, and I suppose my message is this: don’t waste time considering these things when you blog. A period in the title simply doesn’t matter. Invest your time thinking about the content you offer to your readers.

    Not that I am a very good model at that, either. :)

  6. Jason Hooker says:

    Darren, when I saw this post come through on the feed, I initially thought it wouldn’t be all that interesting. I read it anyway, and it has empowered me to comment on two other common errors that occur not only in blog posts around the internet, but in emails and other areas also.

    1. The use of affect vs. effect. To put it simply, ‘affect’ is a verb and ‘effect’ is a noun. You can affect things (or change them), or you have an effect (change) on them.

    2. The use of anyway vs. any way. ‘Anyway’ means regardless or nonetheless. ‘Any way’ means a number of different ways or methods. For example, “If there is any way I can help you, please let me know.”

    Anyway (regardless), I hope my humble comments will have a positive effect (change) on your readers!

  7. Ray says:

    Sebastian, as a retired English professor I completely agree with Darren here. Not using a period at the end of a title is a basic grammatical rule. They should not be used in titles, headings or subheadings as they break the flow of an article. Most people do not know why they don’t use periods in titles but most subconsciously know that it is wrong when they see it.

    For more on full stops in headlines check out the research which shows people have better comprehension of what they are reading when there is no full stop in the heading. It is research into advertising but in my own research I’ve found that it is true in other types of writing.

    It might be a small thing but the small things all add up.

    Looking at your blog Sebastian, I think you could benefit from taking notice of some of the ‘small things’ that Darren advises (your blog doesn’t even load at the moment so perhaps start with that).

  8. Sebastián says:

    It’s true! It doesn’t load. Well. Thanks for the irony.

    Maybe you should wait until it loads before suggesting me that I could benefit from Darren’s advice. I mean, if you can’t see it, how do you know I could benefit?

    Regarding to the period in the title: I respect your background as an English professor. I am a journalist working in a national newspaper. Trust me, it doesn’t matter.

  9. Sebastián says:

    Update: It loads right now.

  10. Ray says:

    I was saying you could do with some of Darrens advice in running a professional blog because your blog wasn’t up.

    As a journalist I’d be interested to know how many of your articles have full stops in your titles? Does your newspaper use them in their titles (I can’t see any)? Do you use them in the titles of your blog (I can’t see any)? Why is that?

    Obviously it does matter because for some reason you don’t use periods in titles. Perhaps it is something you’ve done subconsciously or perhaps it’s something you were taught as being good grammar.

    It’s a basic grammatical rule Sebastian. It might be small but look at the study I linked to above and you’ll see the impact that something as small as a full stop has. 13% less people comprehended the ads with full stops in their headings – some even expressed that the reason for it was that ‘The full stop tends to pull up some readers with a jerk, and indicates to them there is no need to read on.’

    It may not matter to you but how do you know it doesn’t matter to or impact your reader. In my mind if it matters to even 1% of the readers of my articles then it matters.

    Have you done any research on this or are you just one of those people who makes sweeping statements about things you suspect might be true?

  11. Sebastián says:

    Well, well.

    For one thing, the fact that my blog wasn’t up for maybe half an hour is something I can’t control and something I can live with.

    Secondly, I *never* said I used full stops in post titles, nor that the newspaper I work for used them in article titles. To say that it obviously matters is a fallacy. What foot you stepped on this morning when you woke up? Why? Obviously it’s important, you chose that one for a reason. See the fallacy?

    It could be fun to extrapolate a study on ad comprehension to the newsroom or a blog, but you maybe can understand that reading an ad is not the same as reading news or reading a blog. Most people don’t read news articles anyway, period or no period. In the case of blogs, I would say that you have to be stupid to find a period in the post title and infer that there’s no need to read the actual post.

    I see how you and I are different. In my opinion, if this matters to the stupidest 1% of my readers, I won’t waste two seconds thinking about it. Why would I want to preserve a reader who finds a period in the title and thinks the post itself is of no value? Go away, gentle reader, go away.

    And here we are, arguing about silly little things. I will stop doing this right now. You can go on spending time in full stops instead on focusing on interesting things to post.

  12. Ray says:

    I never said that people wouldn’t read an article with a period in it. I said that studies seem to indicate that a certain percentage of readers seem to be halted in their reading by them.

    From an early age we are taught to pause/stop when we see a full stop. If you look at eye tracking studies you’ll find that it is the end of sentences (full stops) that people often stop reading midway through articles. To ‘pause’ the reader’s eye in the heading does have an impact.

    I’m still interested as to why you don’t use full stops in your titles if it doesn’t matter? You never answered my question.

    You write ‘Most people don’t read news articles anyway, period or no period.’ That’s the first time I’ve ever heard a newspaper journalist admit this – perhaps it is time to find a new occupation.

    You’re right though – we are different. I write articles with the hope of bringing my readers along with me. I write in a way that does everything I can to communicate my message to as many people as possible whether they are ‘stupid’ or not. If you wish to write off your ‘stupid’ readers then go for it.

    But of course you won’t, because you, like the rest of us don’t use full stops in your titles. You seem to say one thing but do another – so who is stupid?

  13. Sebastián says:

    If it’s the first time you read a journalist admit that most people don’t read news stories then maybe you should read more studies about newspaper reading, not only about ad reading. Only a small fraction of the people who read the title go on to read the rest of the story. This is so in any country, in any newspaper, for any particular story. If I had to resign because of this then every print journalist in the world would have to do the same.

    Now to the part when you say that I seem to say one thing and do another. Yes, the keyword here is “seem”. I don’t do that. I don’t advocate the use of full sentences as titles. I just say that nothing should refrain you from using periods in post headings if they help you convey an intended meaning or impression.

    You picture me as irrational, maybe as a troll. You just don’t understand. A period in the title is no obstacle for comprehension. And if it is, I won’t waste time trying to embed an interesting concept in the mind of *that* reader. I just don’t care. It “pauses” the reader’s eye. So? Maybe I *want* him/her to pause and consider the sentence for a moment. Maybe. I. Want. To. Convey. An. Impression.

    I won’t go into a frantic attempt to keep a reader that doesn’t have the sense to swallow a title with a period in it. I, like you, want my readers to come along with me. But –*any* reader? Including a reader whose limited comprehension forces me to consider if I should put a full stop in a title? Including a reader for whom I have to bring my reasoning level down, at the expense of the other 99%? Come on. I suspect this is just the price you are paying to keep a 100% of your readers all the time with you.

    Surely you have noticed that I am spending time in this, although I stated I would not. Take it as an additional opportunity to understand what I’m saying.

    As for the “Now who’s stupid?”, I of course never said that *you* are, so I hope you understand if I feel somewhat hurt by that last line. Don’t expect me to answer to you again.

  14. Jenn says:

    I agree with Sebastian. This “tip” is retarded. Nobody is going to decide to read or not read an article based on whether the title has a period at the end or not. That’s just ridiculous. As Sebastian says, content is much more important than something like that, which frankly is of no importance at all, no matter how many obscure studies of “flow” and “subconscious tendencies” you brag about reading. I mean, your argument corroborates the use of run-on-sentences, which everyone knows are annoying, and just because they don’t have any periods it doesn’t mean that people will just keep reading forever because even though you haven’t interrupted the “flow” it doesn’t mean you actually have anything to say and… yeah.

    I think you’re forgetting that the web is, to a degree, art. There are no rules and formulas for “how to make everyone love my site.” If there were, there wouldn’t be so many $#!+ty blogs out there. Above all, do whatever you like. It’s your space.

  15. Jenn says:

    Also, what’s with the personal attacks, Ray? How is it fair for you to attack Sebastian’s site without presenting your own to show how things are done?

    I read a study about how criticizing other people is a sign of insecurity.

  16. Ray says:

    You wrote a couple of posts back:

    “I would say that you have to be stupid to find a period in the post title and infer that there’s no need to read the actual post.”

    Forgive me if I’m wrong but you seemed to be inferring my own stupidity here even though you failed to grasp my arguement in this very sentence as it was something I never said. As you’d brought ‘stupidity’ into the arguement I thought it appropriate to ask if I and stupid readers might not be the only people that were stupid in this equation. Sorry that this hurt so much.

    If you’re ‘hurt’ by a stranger taking issue with something you say an inferring stupidity then I suggest that the blogosphere is not a place for you.

    I don’t understand why you can’t hang around for a little robust discussion on an issue like this. Of course if you’d rather go back to your blogging where you write titles with no full stops or your news articles with no full stops that you only write for smart people (but that no one reads anyway) then go for it.

  17. Ray says:

    Jenn – I didn’t attack his site. I just pointed out that while he was willing to tell everyone that something Darren had written about ‘didn’t matter’ that his own blog didn’t seem to be working and that perhaps he could take some advice on running a professional blog.

    With regards to my own site – I don’t have one. I am a retired English Prof and do write for a number of online and offline periodicals but do not have a blog or site of my own. I follow blogs and comment on some from time to time when they are on topics that interest me.

    “I read a study about how criticizing other people is a sign of insecurity.”

    Interesting (some might say this is verges on an indirect ‘attack’ itself). I suspect there’s some truth about that and I’m willing to accept that I, like all of us, have my own insecurities. I would dispute that anything I’ve said has been ‘attacking’. I think we’re having a good discussion and that if I’ve ‘attacked’ then it is no more than what Sebastian has also.

    I’m arguing strongly for a case and would want to defend Darren’s original post which Sebastian wrote off as ‘silly’. To this point I’ve not seen him write anything to back this up and when I point out that he actually does what he thinks is ‘silly’ he decides he doesn’t want to talk about it any more.

  18. Darren Rowse says:

    Gang – thanks for the discussion on this one. I’m surprised something like this caused such a debate.

    A few points:

    I’d love for this discussion to stay constructive. There’s no need for telling each other that they’re stupid (or inferring it). There’s probably no need to call anyone or anything retarded either. Lets keep to the topic and get away from accusations or emotive language.

    On the topic – like I say in the post – this isn’t the biggest thing to worry about on a blog but it is a fairly established principle of copywriting.

    I do take Jenn’s point on that the web is a place of experimentation and expression. I personally wouldn’t stop reading a post that had a full stop in it’s title and I doubt most people would. However from what I’ve read it does impact the flow of an article and is a fairly well established practice to avoid full stops in titles.

    In fact some would say that it’s such an obvious practice that it’s hardly worth a post on it – but it is something I’ve seen a number of bloggers doing in the last week or so and as a result I thought I’d post something on it to see if it generated some discussion.

    Ultimately – it’s up to the blogger to decide how they run their blog and I’m not one to impose rules on anyone. If they want a full stop in a title then go for it.

    My own approach is similar to Rays in that I’d like to write in a way that is accessible as possible and that brings along as many readers as possible. If something as simple as a full stop in a heading or title is going to be a hiccup in the flow of an article for some readers then I think that that is a good enough reason not to use them (plus in my opinion they just look odd).

    Anyway – I hope we can continue this discussion in a constructive way and perhaps learn from each other as we go.

  19. Dan says:

    getting back on topic…

    What about multiple periods (such as my title above)? Is that not by design intended to lead a reader on?

    All reminds me of the book about the panda – “Eats, shoots and leaves”

    Dan
    :0)

  20. Christina says:

    How about questions marks? I’ve been posing a lot of questions in my titles, lately. I know stylistically, question marks in headlines are OK… a question in the headliine implies an answer in the article, and impells the reader to continue.

    I’ll have to go back and be sure I’ve not used a period anywhere, though. Thanks for the reminder, D!

  21. 354Riverlaw says:

    Folks, I’ve just come into this discussion. Four points to ponder.
    1 Little things DO matter. One small flea in the bed … or one mosquito in the bedroom …

    2 Anyone who has played sport competitively knows that a 1% improvement in a tennis serve, or a golf score can make a huge difference. A race horse which is 1% slower than the winner doesn’t take home the trophy! So slowing down or putting off 1% of headline readers IS important. One percent of a million people is 10,000.

    3 As a professional writer for over 40 years I can vouch for the effectiveness of knowing the rules before you break them or (worse) disregarding them without knowing they exist. For instance, the three dots are not three fullstops. That is ELLIPSIS and it has its own uses, conventions and functions.

    4 Here’s my positive contribution for today
    Never end a page (printed or electronic) on a fullstop. Always break the sentence and have the other portion of it on the next page. This tactic can be quite effective in heightening the reader’s interest in knowing the rest of the message. For instance, the best and most useful advice I ever got about writing was from a writer who earns $5000 every time he writes a sales letter. His advice was so simple. He told me in confidence “When writing a sales letter, always be sure to put your most profitable item (the one which can make you rich) where right-handed people can

  22. Christina says:

    I see you’re outlining your brilliant tactic in your response, 354Riverlaw. Please finish! We’re waiting on baited breath!

  23. I don’t use a period in my titles because my titles aren’t full sentences. My titles are nothing more than a flag that tells the reader what the topic of the post is. That’s all the information it is intended to convey. The articles start off with a photo and a running narrative with more photos follows. There is no need for a full sentence in the title.

  24. Meg says:

    If your breath is baited, maybe you need a mint. ;)

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  2. [...] In the process of looking up punctuation for headlines (no periods at the end, please!), I learned that you’re not supposed to use underline for web publications because it makes it look like a clickable link. [...]