« April 2010 | Home | June 2010 »

Issue for May 2010

Better Headlines

Posted on Wednesday, May 26, 2010 at 1:13 PM

Nine new essentials.

By Jan V. White

Headlines (titles or heds) and decks have separate functions. See how the headline above identifies the topic ("headlines") and telegraphs importance ("better")? See how the deck defines why you, dear reader, should care? ("Nine new essentials" to help you make them better). Those time-tested functions make as much sense as ever, but we must go beyond them. Here are some pointers to better heads that affect and are, in turn, affected by the way they appear on the page. (Next issue we'll tackle decks.)

1) Curiosity is what pulls the casual reader into your story. The display is your best persuasion tool to get them to want to find out more. (The key words here are "to want to"). It often takes several words to define a complex topic and describe what you need to say so it is the honey that draws the bee. Therefore, make heads as long as they need to be to fascinate. Shorter isn't better, no matter what you have taken for journalistic gospel, or what the designer may maintain. Heads aren't just journalism, they are salesmanship.

2) Each head in a publication refers to its own story, but it is also a segment of a package. Since it is purposely noticeable, the way it looks helps create (or disintegrate) the personality of the product. To compete successfully, it is the product-as-a-whole that matters in the marketplace more than any of its component. Consistency is what keeps it looking unified. The temptation has always been to vary the typeface of headlines "to keep the reader interested." The pub is in serious trouble if it depends on such superficial tinkering to be interesting. Heads are recognition signals, so make them look the same.

3) The display should be what people are led to by the design. Heads and decks must pop out by contrast to what surrounds them. Type size defines the headlines visually but is usually limited by the available space into which the words must fit. Blackness is the other identifier. How can you make the headline blacker? Obviously by using a bolder version of the type. Less obviously, by taking advantage of type's malleability and squeezing out the air within and adding it to the surrounding frame. Set the characters closer together (by using tighter "tracking") and set the lines closer together (by using "minus-leading"). Tightening achieves darkness. Heads must stand out by looking loud and aggressive.

4) Tradition demanded heads and decks centered above the text below. That's what you learned in junior high as "correct." So it was, given the childish context of "reports." Also, it was standard practice when print was in its youth. Now it is essential to break out of the prison of formal form and handle our words-in-type as speech-made-visible. Talking stops, starts, has gaps, emphasizes, mumbles. Thoughts are sentences composed of phrases. Advance beyond tombstone inscriptions: open your eyes and listen to the sound of your type. Heads should be set flush left, lines broken by sense-making phrase.

5) An Even More Insidious Bad Habit Than Centering the Display Is the Up-and-Down Style That Has Haunted American Publishing Since the Mid-1800s. It decrees that a headline isn't a proper headline unless every important word's initial letter is capitalized. Nowhere in the world do people do this, unless they are attempting to ape an "American" style. There is absolutely no functional reason for it and most U.S. newspapers have switched to all-lowercase. It is counter-productive, because it makes reading slower and more laborious (just where it should be fast and smooth). It camouflages proper names (which are vital interest-hooks in headlines). It robs you of the capacity to emphasize (where you might want to use such caps). Starting with a cap initial like any normal sentence, heads should slip off the page smoothly in all-lowercase.

6) Headlines are believed to be the most useful elements to bring the reader into the story. (I believe that cutlines are even more vital, because people look at pictures first, then look for an irresistible explanation, but be that as it may.) Is it not logical, then, to make the type as inviting and beguiling as your carefully wrought words? Yet we relegate them to standardized ugliness by using "condensed" type squeezed to shoehorn those words in. The invited reader is disinvited by what you present them. They skip it. Your precious piece remains unread. Think of a whole publication's-worth of such waste. Instead of using hard-to-read condensed, devote the same amount of space and fit the headline in using regular type but at a smaller size.

7) HEADLINES USED TO BE SET IN ALL-CAPS. That was intended to make the type look bigger when it was made of metal and was limited in size by its vulnerability on press. We don't have technical size problems any more, but the desire for the Dignity and Implied importance of all-caps remains with us. In the old days, the amount of printed matter was limited and thus more precious, so people enjoyed reading slowly, carefully. Now we race through it. Tests prove that all-caps are more laborious to decipher than lowercase. If you want your headlines to be read, set only a few words in all-caps.

8) Immediacy ... speed of communication ... first impression ... are key words today. Parallel with the ease of reading comes ease of understanding: how the words are written to expose the point of the story. If that nub has content that is apt for the reader (i.e., "The What's In It For Me") it is folly not to signal it for first glance attention. This admits that our journalistic content is less literary than it is more functional. Self-interest -- promised benefit -- is the bait that catches that elusive unconvinced reader. It is in our interest to show off that vital point at first glance. In headlines, run a word or two in extrabold, in color, in bigger size, anything to make it pop out.

9) Reading some of the words in the following examples may well convince you of my personal prejudices. Not prejudices, but preferences.

Example 1

Example 2

Example 3

Example 4

Example 5

Example 6

These are recommendations based on observation, study, and empirical experience. Decisions should never only be about what something looks like, but on how it works within given circumstances. All editing and designing and headline-setting is interpretive choice-making.

Jan V. White is a communication design consultant and author of Editing by Design (3rd Ed.), Allsworth Press, 2003. He may be reached at janvw2 [at] aol [dot] com.

Add your comment.

Posted in Design (RSS), Editing (RSS)

Beyond the Buzz: Deconstructing the iPad

Posted on Monday, May 24, 2010 at 4:00 PM

Pondering the potential role of iPad in magazine publishing's future.

By Meredith L. Dias

We editors have been seeing significant changes in our daily routines. First, we had to learn how to edit for websites, then for smartphones and e-readers (e.g., Blackberry, iPhone, Kindle, etc.). Now, the mounting popularity of the iPad presents us with yet another possible change: learning to edit for tablet computer editions.

If this leaves you feeling overwhelmed, you are likely not alone. With new devices constantly appearing on the scene, it is a constant challenge for editors to keep afloat. We can never get too comfortable -- not when rapidly evolving technology demands constant readjustments and retraining.

The proliferation of iPad magazines raises some important questions: Will this new trend just create more work for editors already stretched to their limits? Or will iPad editions help to save thousands of editors' jobs, which have hung in the balance as lower ad sales have reduced editorial page counts? Are more changes in store for editors, their style guides, and their work routines?

Some Potential Problems

What will the iPad mean for magazines? Mediaite.com's Colby Hall predicts that what's "revolutionary from an editorial and design perspective is that magazine staffers -- now editing for print and the Web in separate work flows -- will be able to edit for print and tablets simultaneously." This is a compelling claim. Unfortunately, the article (a roundup of the recent American Association of Advertising Agencies' Transformation Conference) does not explain this idea further, leaving us with a cliffhanger.

What does separate print and Web editing, aside from differing copyediting and fact-checking standards, is the frequent updating of content on the Web. The print content can only be static, but the Web content can (and should) be dynamic. If the print and iPad editing processes are to be streamlined, and if the Audit Bureau of Circulations' expanded definition of digital editions still only includes editions mimicking the print edition's editorial and advertising content, can the iPad really be a game-changer?

Paul Michelman of the Harvard Business Review cautions magazines against becoming stuck in the past, rather than embracing the new modes of content creation made possible by the iPad: "If we lose sight of that and allow ourselves to assume the answer is from the past, our futures are bleak."

However, this is easier said than done -- if a publication wants its iPad readership reflected in its circulation numbers, it must offer the same editorial and advertising content as its print edition. Even if the layout differs in the iPad edition and includes fun extras (e.g., audio and video), how can magazines truly evolve if their digital editions cannot deviate from the print edition on any meaningful level? Print and online readers, after all, are not interchangeable. Each audience has unique needs and preferences, and the ABC ruling may inhibit editors' abilities to serve those audiences effectively on multiple platforms. Given that, it seems like ABC's concept of what a magazine is may be "stuck in the past."

What's more, there are some real limitations in the device's operating system that may inhibit the iPad magazine experience, including an inability to multitask. Perhaps most infamously, the device does not support Adobe Flash, an exclusion that has generated significant grumbling and may prove problematic for magazines that have incorporated Flash into their existing digital editions. The iPad may force these magazines to undergo expensive digital redesigns to replace unsupported content.

The iPad Reading Experience

Last weekend, I attended a friend's birthday party. When I arrived, there it lay before me, gleaming in the sunlight like a Twilight vampire (and surrounded by a similar halo of hype): a brand-new iPad. Finally, after months of reading articles and watching YouTube videos about it, I had the opportunity to test-drive one myself. Of course, I had to get in line; this gadget somehow managed to be the life of the party. When my turn finally came, the lightweight computer felt strangely heavy -- with expectation.

The iPad's reading interface is quite attractive. Unlike most traditional
e-reading devices, the iPad facilitates full-color publication, a feature of no marginal significance to magazine designers. The page-turning mechanism mimics that of the print reading experience and may pacify print readers reluctant to try digital editions. Moreover, the built-in motion sensor allows readers the option of reading publications in landscape or portrait view simply by rotating the device.

Perhaps most importantly, though, the iPad store facilitates quick purchasing through an iTunes account; with a mere tap of the finger and, in some cases, reentry of a password, users can acquire the latest issues of magazines available on the iPad. This solves a problem that has plagued magazine and newspaper publishers for years: how to facilitate quick payments with minimal barriers between reader and content. Chris Brennan of PCPro.uk sums up the magazine purchasing experience on iPad: "Buying magazines is easy: download the app and tap, tap, donk. ... Simple, easy and bank-account-emptying."

In other words, just what the magazine industry doctors ordered.

Magazines Currently on iPad

Several magazines have arrived early on the iPad scene. Editors are using this platform not only to present an attractive digital edition, but also to enhance otherwise static content with video, audio, and convenient menus for easy content access.

Vanity Fair, one of the early entrants into the iPad magazine marketplace, recently launched its inaugural iPad edition. Matthew Zuras of Switched.com wrote up a detailed review of the edition's strengths and shortcomings. The most important of the iPad edition's strengths was the photo quality, though he warns readers not to "expect to pinpoint the pores of Cristiano Ronaldo's godly abs." The magazine, he says, also features eye-pleasing ragged right text and a drop-down menu of the table of contents, facilitating quick access to desired content.

Zuras also cites layout issues that "wildly irritated" him, including orientation problems. "In portrait view," he says, "each article is squashed into a single, long column that's further compressed by the lead image, which takes up nearly half your screen." Also problematic is the price: the inaugural edition costs a steep $4.99, with future issues slated to be $3.99. The high price point, however, is the least of the problem here; according to Zuras, iPad Vanity Fair subscribers have no access to back issues.

Other iPad magazines include GQ, Time, and Popular Science.

Recognizing the iPad's Potential

DMNews for April 19, 2010, explores the subscription potential for publishers on iPad in "Publishers expect subscription lift from iPad." Nathan Golia cites the iPad's value-enhanced content and high audience interest as potential game-changers for publishers and advertisers. He quotes Peter Hunsinger, VP and publisher of GQ: "'Usually, in our business, you serve three copies before you get paid. With [the iPad], you get the money up front, and there's no bad pay because it's all credit card or phone bill. Also, you eliminate promotion costs -- people are subscribing because they want the magazine, not the football helmet phone.'" Teresa Perry, an SVP of the Audit Bureau of Circulations, shares Hunsinger's enthusiasm: "Editorial and advertising can both be positioned and distributed in easy, readable experiences."

Paul Michelman tempers the iPad publishing hype with a caveat for magazine editors and publishers: "I think the way publishers are approaching it so far all but obviates every one of its assets. How so? By assuming that two mature media -- print and desktop websites -- can simply be retrofit and forced onto this very immature medium." What's more, he criticizes the recent Audit Bureau of Circulations amendment of its definition of digital magazine, noting that the new definition still only rewards digital editions that mimic print, rather than offer dynamic, frequently updated content.

The Near Future

Regardless of whether or not the iPad single-handedly saves the publishing industry, the device has made waves and pushed publishers in a new direction. After all, it was the prerelease iPad buzz that, in part, prompted the Audit Bureau of Circulations to amend its definition of digital magazines.

We may not understand the reach of the iPad for years to come. Chris Anderson, editor-in-chief of Wired, says, "It will take less than 10 years for [iPad] to become mainstream." This may constitute quick evolution in some fields, but with many magazines hanging in the balance, we don't have the luxury of waiting a decade. Editors' jobs are at stake. If the iPad is our future, it must somehow become our near future.

Meredith Dias is the research editor of Editors Only.

Add your comment.

Posted in Design (RSS), Editing (RSS), Management (RSS), News (RSS), Technical (RSS)

Art and Science

Posted on Monday, May 24, 2010 at 2:42 PM

Supply both and the reader will likely have rewards.

By Peter P. Jacobi

I'm in the mood for a summary.

If you want your writing to take wing or if you -- as editor -- want the written material that goes into your publication to do so, understand that you must consider the art of writing, the science of writing, and the results that your readers are likely to expect from your efforts.

Art has to do with the imagination and how you employ it; science with craft. Tend to these carefully and energetically, and you will compel, or at least promote, reader reaction.

The Art

There are nine artistic needs for flight.

One -- Be Willing to Soar

The compulsion must exist within your mental muscle, your emotional sinew to not only imagine possibilities but then to realize them.

Two -- Let Yourself Go

Love the sense of freedom that comes from release of your imagination. Let yourself go. The best writers do that. With them, the reader is never quite sure what's next. That's not unsettling.

It's titillating or delectable or goose bump raising or chuckle inducing.

Three -- Yearn for Adventure

Natalie Goldberg in her book, Writing Down the Bones, says: "Writers live twice. They go along with their regular life ... But there's another part of them that they have been training, the one that lives everything a second time. In a rainstorm, everyone quickly runs down the street with umbrellas, raincoats, newspapers over their heads. Writers go back outside in the rain with a notebook in front of them and pen in hand. They look at the puddles, watch them fill, watch the rain splash in them. You can say a writer practices being dumb. Only a dummy would stand out in the rain and watch a puddle ... It's your interest in living life again in your writing."

Four -- Have Courage

That means a willingness on your part to gamble, a willingness to give, a willingness to be generous. Annie Dillard says: "One of the few things I know about writing is this. Spend it all, shoot it, play it, lose it, all, right away, every time."

Five -- Map It

Know why you're writing and where you're heading. Have a map in your head; then, take the reader to your chosen destination. Show what the map indicates. "This is the great moment," insisted the legendary travel writer Freya Stark, "when you see, however distant, the goal of your wandering. The thing which has been living in your imagination suddenly becomes a part of the tangible world."

Six -- Have a Vision

Have vision, and be willing to share it.

Seven -- Use the Senses

Work at your words and message so that the reader -- through your piece of writing -- gains the ability to see, to hear, to smell, to touch, to taste. Be acutely sensual in your copy.

Eight -- Give Meaning to your Subject

Develop and use a ranging and open mind, this to give meaning to your subject through the right words, the right composition, the right logic.

Nine -- Have Passion

"Be still when you have nothing to say," preached D.H. Lawrence. "When genuine passion moves you, say what you've got to say, and say it hot."

The Science

Next, combine the artistic demands with science, in the form of "My Magnificent Seven," seven elements essential for your piece of writing to be successful.

One -- the Lead

Provide an invitation to your reader, an introduction, an overture, a prelude. The opening, beginning, lead is the essential tease, an amalgam of idea, information, method, language, and design that causes the reader to decide, "This is for me. I must go on."

Two -- the Thesis

Follow the lead with a thesis, a succinct passage that tells the reader what the piece of writing is about. This is your pre-planned response to a predictable reader reaction: "You've got my attention. Now, let me in on what, more precisely, you're going to be telling or showing me or doing to me if I go on reading. What's ahead?"

Three --the Purpose

That's purpose, the why for your piece of writing. By disclosing purpose, you're striving to be more specific about what points you're going to make, about what you'll offer in the form of carefully selected substance to support your project. Here, you provide a more extended explanation, beyond thesis, of why the reader should spend time on your work, of what he or she will get out of the reading.

Four -- the Direction

A clear sense of direction because badly designed writing meanders or jumps around or turns jerky, bumpy, seemingly wandering or tread-milling on a communications road ill defined. Call it sequencing. Call it flow. Just let your reader know at every point along the way where he or she is heading.

Five -- the Propulsion

Propulsion: your piece of writing should give the reader a sense of motion, the feel of going forward, of transport, of getting somewhere.

Six --the Climax

Supply climax, one or more. Build toward high points, peaks, capstones, pinnacles, summits, factual resolutions or inspirational culminations. There need to be rises in your copy, climbs in temperature, intensities intensified.

Seven-- the Remembrance

The pleasure of reading becomes more pleasurable if there is recall, if there is something that sticks in the reader's mind or that latches on to the heart. Give the reader something to remember and/or use.

Supply art and science, and if all goes well, there will be results. The reader will likely have rewards:

1. Expectation realized
2. Surprise engendered
3. The benefit of your honesty
4. Your voice to savor
5. New worlds discovered
6. Relevance revealed, and
7. Entertainment.

About that last result, author Michael Chabon explains: "The original sense of the word 'entertainment' is a lovely one of mutual support through intertwining, like a pair of trees grown together, interwoven, each sustaining and bearing up the other. It suggests a kind of midair transfer of strength, contact across a void, like the tangling of cable and steel between two lonely bridgeheads. I can't think of a better approximation of the relation between reader and writer."

There's my summary. You do the filling out.

Peter P. Jacobi is a Professor Emeritus at Indiana University. He is a writing and editing consultant for numerous associations and magazines, speech coach, and workshop leader for various institutions and corporations. He can be reached at 812-334-0063.

Add your comment.

Posted in Writing (RSS)

The Fog Index

Posted on Monday, May 24, 2010 at 1:51 PM

Assessing the readability of a Signature magazine article.

This month, we assess the readability of an article in the May/June 2010 issue of Signature magazine ("Does Your Media Kit Earn Rave Reviews?" by Carrie Hartin):

"An engaging sales kit is an extension of the sales presentation, helping your sales team show that story, by illustrating the crucial characteristics of your members -- not just regurgitating statistics churned out of your member survey. Tell the prospect, for example, what the readership's engagement with advertisers has been in the past and what their purchasing budgets generally look like. Follow that up with explanation of how members use your communication vehicles, and you've created a powerful selling story that you can illustrate with thumbnail examples of content-driven pages or screenshots."

--Word count: 92
--Average sentence length: 31 (37, 24, 31)
--Words with 3+ syllables: 21 percent (18/92 words)
--Fog Index: (31+21) x .4 = 20 (no rounding)

The Fog score of this sample is quite high. In this case, both the average sentence length and percentage of words with 3+ syllables are rather high. This is a tough sample to edit, as it contains longer terms specific to the subject at hand.

Let's see what we can do to improve the Fog score:

"A winning sales kit is an extension of the sales presentation. It helps your sales team by showing key member characteristics -- not just pulling numbers from member surveys. Tell the prospect, for instance, the readership's past engagement with advertisers. Show what their normal purchasing budgets look like. Then explain how members use your communication vehicles. Now, you've created a strong selling story that you can illustrate with thumbnails of content-driven pages or screenshots."

Here are the statistics for the revised sample:

--Word count: 74
--Average sentence length: 12 (11, 18, 11, 8, 8, 18)
--Words with 3+ syllables: 14 percent (10/74 words)
--Fog Index: (12+14) x .4 =10 (no rounding)

First, we needed to split up some of the longer sentences to reduce the average sentence length of 31 words. Three sentences became six and, with some tightening up of the syntax and trimming of words, we were able to reduce this average by more than half to 12 words.

Perhaps most challenging, we needed to reduce the number of longer words, a factor that contributed heavily to the original Fog score of 20. This can be difficult in business-to-business copy, but the effort paid off -- we were able to reduce the percentage of 3+-syllable words from 21 to 14 (a reduction of one-third).

Overall, these edits cut the Fog score in half (from 20 to 10).

Add your comment.


"With a little bit of editing, the paragraph can be further improved:

'A winning sales kit is a key part of the sales presentation. It shows vital member characteristics, rather than simply pulling numbers from surveys. Show the prospect, for instance, the readership's past engagement with advertisers. Present their purchasing budgets. Then explain how members use your communication vehicles. Now, you've created a strong selling story that you can illustrate with thumbnails of content-driven pages or screenshots.'

Here's the Fog analysis:

Number of characters (without spaces): 372.00
Number of words: 66.00
Number of sentences: 6.00
Average number of characters per word: 5.64
Average number of syllables per word: 1.80
Average number of words per sentence: 11.00
Gunning Fog index: 8.64


--Don Tepper, Editor, PT in Motion (American Physical Therapy Association). 05-26-2010.

Posted in Editing (RSS), Grammar (RSS), Writing (RSS)

« April 2010 | Top | June 2010 »