Copy-editing with a twist

The ins and outs of being a copy editor

Cliches can muck up your pristine headlines

Posted by Noel Sanchez on October 3, 2008

Cliches are probably enemy No. 1 when it comes to editing copy. But they’re especially heinous in headlines. I’ll admit that writing headlines is probably the copy-editing task I struggle most with, and when that cliched phrase pops into mind, it just seems like such an easy way out.

Next time you’re worried that you’re about to fall into the cliche trap, reading this post from Headsup might remind you how ridiculous they can look.

Just how many people can come up with the exact same headline about the Wall Street bailout? Well, quite a few if they’re all relying on a pop culture reference and a question headline.

So at the Alligator, we have a list of blacklisted words that everyone agrees should not pop up in our stories unless in a direct quote or in some other unavoidable circumstance. Among those words are “sustainable,” “green” and “community.” (Bonus factor: It is very likely for all three of these words to potentially show up in the same story.) These tired old words sound nice but have little real meaning or weight. They’re banned from news copy (we let columns and features slide), and of course, banned from headlines.

I’ve found the list pretty useful and have noticed that everyone tries to abide by it for the most part, which isn’t easy considering how difficult it is to pick up on cliches in your own copy. A phrase never seems cliche when you use it. To solve that problem, I suggest writing down your own list of blacklisted headlines. Scribble down any cliche when you see it. When it’s time to write your headline, that list of unusable phrases is a visible reminder that you’re not as clever as you thought.

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