A recent project presented a recurring typographic and literary puzzle: whether or not to use full stops in titles and shorter headlines. Our client likes them with; we like them without – but which is better? Is there a rule on whether to stop or not?
I was not aware of any, so I set out to find examples that might lead to an answer. Starting with book titles.
FROM HERE TO ETERNITY
Hemmingway’s classic, along with every other book title it would appear, does not have a full stop.
Famous graphic posters next. A recent political example is Obama’s political campaign poster:
YES WE CAN
And no it does not. (Use a stop). Perhaps a more historical example may enlighten:
SKEGNESS IS SO BRACING
Also devoid of any punctuation. It is, however, beginning to feel like a normal sentence.
Perhaps, this is something we can begin to legislate around – if it is a proper sentence, or feels like a sentence, maybe it should have a stop:
IT’S THE REAL THING.
A sentence – and a full stop. But what about:
SHARE A COKE WITH A FRIEND
A sentence – but no full stop. Maybe it’s the length of sentence that matters:
LIPSSMACKIN, THIRST QUENCHING, ACE TASTING, MOTIVATING, COOL BUZZING, HIGHT TALKING, FAST LIVING,EVER GIVING, COOL FIZZING…PEPSI
Some sentences get a full stop even when very short:
Further examples might help.
The following are typical advertising and corporate slogans:
JUST DO IT.
BRINGING IT ALL TOGETHER
KEEP CALM AND CARRY ON
FOR THE GAME. FOR THE WORLD.
THE WORLD’S LOCAL BANK
The pedant may at first seem stymied by this random melee. However, looking more closely one begins to see some defining nuances. The headlines punctuated with stops are more definite. The full stop is used with full grammatical intensity – it adds emphasis, gravity, it says stop, listen, act, and we mean it. The headlines without full stops are softer. They engage with an open, warmer proposition.
This could be the start of a convention. And with further searching one realises conventions do exist:
FREDDIE STAR ATE MY HAMSTER
This headline along with just about every other newspaper headline written will not use full stops. It would appear that the red-top responsible for this headline did not want to draw attention to the subject or add extra emphasis or shock value through the use of punctuation. Otherwise, one presumes all such headlines would have exclamation marks. Rather, the editor is more interested in constructing a tease with language to persuade the reader to buy the paper, and read on…
Bloggers are also advised to avoid full stops in headlines. Not because blogging has its own quirky practices, but as with the above example, the idea of an editorial headline is to lead the reader into the story. A full stop will interrupt this flow.
In the same way a book title is like a newspaper headline. I’ve compared a famous book title with and without a full stop.
WAR AND PEACE.
WAR AND PEACE
With a full stop the title is a statement – an obvious and self-fulfilling maxim on the human condition. It makes its own conclusion with nothing more to say. War and peace. End of.
Without a stop the book promises an intriguing and expansive narrative of tragedy and passion.
It feels like we are ready to make a rule:
Rule: Do not to use full stops in headlines or titles unless you intend to add deliberate emphasis. If in doubt, don’t stop. Try reading out the punctuation mark. I.e. Just do it, full stop.
On the question of longer pull-out type sub-heads or captions, our own experience dictates that it is perhaps less critical.
‘We want to make you happy. Let’s talk.’
Clearly this kind of sub head will need punctuation. But:
‘We want to make you happy’
Is better without. Here, the critical rule is consistency.
Rule: Keep all sub heads in a similar style and punctuate consistently.
Shorter sub heads tend to work better without full stops for the same reason as other headlines described above. Re-write if necessary.