This ad was in last Sunday’s New York Times Magazine:

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What I noticed first were the skillfully made line breaks. They work.

Line breaks are an often overlooked part of good headline copywriting. The way lines are broken can significantly change how we interpret the message.

For example, consider this, where we would think about eating in taste (some may call this fine dining)…except we find ourselves on a date with NYT? I don’t know about you, but a candlelit dinner with a newspaper agency that is Cooking Meal Kits (as if it were a Significant Activity) does not sound like fun. Or worse, if you are dining out with an NYT rep while you are cooking meal kits.

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Or this, where we might accidentally personify “eating in taste.” Sure, Coffee Meets Bagel (and Design Meets Writing), but personifying eating in taste and then forcing it to enjoy going out with some meal kits is an unreasonable request. Eating in taste doesn’t have feelings, so we’re all better off if we can avoid line breaks that might accidentally read like it does.

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Or, if we (unwisely) capitalize all the words, and try another variation of line breaks, we get an ad that tells us to make eating as trendy as dining out with NYT while it is cooking some meal kits. Maybe it is in good taste to dine out with NYT, but if #eating is ever trending on Twitter, it’s surely not going to be about NYT cooking from kits on a date. Capitalization is clearly important for showing that “NYT Cooking” and “Meal Kits” are each nouns.

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If we try to make line lengths even (three or six words per line), we could get something that sounds like a note left on the foyer table, scribbled by someone too rushed to bother with grammar and whatnot. Please, dear, make eating in actually taste like real food. I’ve gone out with NYT. We’re cooking Meal Kits. (Ow. That’s harsh.)

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Or, with just the right typographic treatment and layout, “out with NYT Cooking Meal Kits” could suggest chucking those kits away, as if NYT Cooking Meal Kits have made eating in NOT taste like dining. Out with the bad! Here’s the anti-ad, at once insulting your cooking and defeating its own purpose…

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Obviously, I’m on a roll of absurdity. Most people aren’t going to read things this way and the New York Times isn’t going to make a self-sabotaging ad get past its design directors.

But it’s a fun example to show how line breaks might confuse a speed-reader, which most of us are when flipping through a magazine. And it shows why it’s important to read what you design…designers must be editors in knowing when not to split phrases. Having a solid grasp of the language you’re designing in helps (or check with someone who is fluent).

The original ad makes sense immediately mainly because the lines break after the phrases that are one unit: “eating in” and “dining out.” The pairing of “NYT Cooking” also suggests that it is a brand of its own, one that creates these Meal Kits (though “NYT Cooking’s Meal Kits” or “Meal Kits by NYT Cooking” would be clearer). I’d consider adding a comma after “dining out” in order to make the distinction even more unmistakable that the meal kits are responsible for making eating in taste like dining out.

Anyway, all this is just

to say that line

breaks are important.