Get expert advice to help you get published!

You are here

Omit colons and full stops after headings in research papers

Yateendra Joshi | Jan 31, 2014 | 93,823 views
Punctuating headings in research papers

Headings or headlines are a special kind of text and are not as rigidly governed by conventions of punctuation. In particular, whenever a heading is on a separate line (the text that follows the heading starts on the next line below the heading), it is pointless to end it with a colon or a full stop. The Publications Office of the European Union [1] puts the matter succinctly: "Do not use colons at the end of headings or to introduce a table or graph set in text matter."

Such punctuation does not help readers; in fact, it has been shown to affect comprehension. A study that specifically addressed this point found that headlines that ended in a full stop lowered comprehension [2]. As Darren Rowse puts it [3], "Full stops, like their name suggests, are something that halts the eye of your reader. . . . [whereas] titles are all about leading your reader into your post."

However, minor headings are sometimes followed by full stops or colons, but only when they are "run on" (text continues on the same line immediately after the heading). Even then, the punctuation can be dispensed with if the headings are set in bold or italics. This, however, is a matter of style: if your target journal uses colons or full stops after such headings, you should do the same.

[1] Publications Office, European Union. [no date]. House rules for the preparation of the text. < code/en/en-4100100en.htm>

[2] Harrison K. [no date]. Bringing a headline to a full stop. < article/coreprskills_headline_to_full_stop.asp>

[3] Rowse D. 2006. Full stops (periods) in titles. < archives/2006/09/26/full-stops-periods-in-titles>   

Another comma-related question that eludes many authors has been discussed in this post: Research paper: Comma after "etc." at the end of a sentence.


Like this article? Republish it!
Knowledge should be open to all. We encourage our viewers to republish articles, online or in print. Our Creative Commons license allows you to do so for free. We only ask you to follow a few simple guidelines:
  • Attribution: Remember to attribute our authors. They spend a lot of time and effort in creating this content for you.
  • Editage Insights: Include an attribution to Editage Insights as the original source.
  • Consider a teaser: Yes, that’s what we call it…a teaser. You could include a few lines of this post and say “Read the whole article on Editage Insights”. Don’t forget to add the link to the article.
  • Re-using images: Re-publishing some of the images from our articles may need prior permission from or credit to the original image source.
  • Quick and easy embed code: The simplest way to share this article on your webpage would be to embed the code below.


Please copy the above code and embed it onto your website to republish.
Download free ebooks, guides and templates.
Editage Insights offers a wealth of free resources on academic research and publishing. Sign up and get complete access to a vibrant global community of 179k researchers.
By clicking 'Join Now', you agree to our Terms & Privacy Policy.
Having trouble registering/logging in? Contact us
Q & A

Have your own question?

Related Categories