Present participle heads may be worse than labels
Barney Kilgore, the legendary editor of The Wall Street Journal, once wrote: “If I see ‘upcoming’ slip in[to] the paper again, I’ll be downcoming and someone will be outgoing.”
I’m with Barney: Stop ing-ing. Especially in headlines.
Now, to be fair, Kilgore’s comment refers to gerunds: verbs that get turned into nouns with the addition of an “-ing,” as in “Writing is fun.”
What I’m talking about are present participles, aka progressive verbs, as in “I am writing.”
Avoid present participling-noun headlines.
So who ever decided that “Present Participling Noun” was a clever headline? You’ve seen (maybe even written!) ing-ing headlines like these:
Hiring to Win
Taking Farming Further
Scaling the China Opportunity
Introducing A New App for Android
Committing to Our Ag & Turf Ambition
Introducing the Strategic Growth Incentive
Creating Meaningful Relationships at Work
Making dams safer for fish around the world
Announcing Our 2014 Scholarship Program Recipients
Transforming and Deepening Our Strategic Partnerships
Understanding Biofilm Roles in Reactions and Processes
Enabling better outcomes and lower costs through integration
Ending Child Trafficking through Collaboration, Awareness, and Support
So what’s wrong with “Introducing the Strategic Growth Incentive”?
Why avoid present participle headlines?
Ing-ing headlines like these:
- Focus on your actions instead of the reader’s needs. Instead of “Introducing A New App for Android,” how about “Get your job done in 12 minutes a week with new Android app”?
- Suck the subject out of the headline. We’re supposed to be writing about people doing things. Where are the actors in these headlines?
- Ing the action. The verb is the story. Ing-ing verbs are weaker.
- Just point to the noun. Instead of “Announcing Our 2014 Scholarship Program Recipients,” how about “2014 scholarship recipients headed to Harvard”?
- Take the benefits out of the headline. Which would you rather read: “Transforming and Deepening Our Strategic Partnerships”? Or “6 ways to jumpstart strategic partnerships”?
- Rarely get used by serious journalists. The New York Times, for instance, mostly avoids them.
Write like the Times.
We analyzed 99 headlines in the Dec. 15, 2014, edition of the Times. (We skipped the sports pages.) Of those, just four — about 4% — were ing-ing heads:
Stoking a Creative Spark
Stuart Shugg and Anna Azrieli in the DoublePlus Series
Stepping Back Into a Role’s Shoes
James Morris’s Unexpected Return to ‘Meistersinger’
Shaping a Shepherd of Catholics,
From Argentine Slums to the Vatican
‘The Great Reformer’: Austen Ivereigh on Pope Francis
Turning #IllRideWithYou Into Real-World Action in Australia
When you find these headlines in your own copy, rewrite. Make it subject, verb, object. Then you’ll wind up with verbs like:
Take a tip from the Times: Limit ing-ing drastically. Even better, stop ing-ing at all.
Are your headlines getting the word out?
“Readers” don’t read. Even highly educated web visitors read fewer than 20% of the words on a page.
Want to learn how to reach people who spend only two minutes — or even just 10 seconds — with your message. If so, bring Ann in to present Catch Your Readers — a persuasive-writing course — to your team.
There, they’ll learn how to write headlines that put their key messages where their readers’ eyes are. They’ll discover how to deliver their ideas to people who don’t read the paragraphs. And they’ll find out how to draw even reluctant audience members into their message.