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Headlines 101

Headlines are the short lines of text that catches
our eyes and makes us want to read an article,
press release, etc. But how does one go about
creating effective headlines? In this short
introduction to headlines I’ll try to show you.

Functions of Headlines

Headlines developed from mere labels indicating
the kind of reading material in the article below
them, to bulletins giving the substance of the
articles to which they are attached. Headlines
present in large type the important facts of the
story which it precedes.

Headlines serve a double purpose:
(1) they enable rapid reading of the news
outlined in the head
(2) they advertise the news to attract the

Headlines Promote Rapid Reading

Headlines fulfill an important role in contemporary
American life. Busy men or women can get world
news updates by reading only the headlines.

Headlines act as advertisements for articles. Like
all good advertisements headlines should create
interest. By arousing the reader’s curiosity,
skillfully written headlines attract reader attention.
This influences them to read the story.

Headlines should present newsy facts in a clear
and concise manner. The statements should also
be concrete and specific. Because of space
limitations, headlines should include the maximum
number of important facts as possible.

Action in Headlines

Headlines should express the action related in the
article. Consider the following three points as
essential elements of headlines:
(1) Life and vividness of expression create interest.
(2) Freshness and originality of phrasing enhance
(3) Short, crisp, and specific words that can be
grasped quickly, generally make the best headlines.

Headlines Should Be Based Lead Sentences

Since all important facts are given in the lead, the
headline should be based largely, if not entirely, on
the lead. The headline should prepare the reader
for what is to follow.

To create concise headlines the articles “a”, “an”,
and “the” are omitted. Helping verbs that aren’t
absolutely necessary are also omitted.

To create freshness and vividness to the headline,
the present tense verbs are usually used even
though the action might have taken place in the
past; for example, “Palin Speaks in Cleveland.”
Future action is expressed by the infinitive or by
the regular future form with “will”; for example,
“Palin to Speak in Cleveland,” or “Palin Will Speak
in Cleveland.”

In general, only common abbreviations, like “Dr.,”
“Prof.,” “Mrs.,” “Mr.,” “St.,” “Co.,” are used in
headlines. However, others that are convenient
and clear can be used. In Washington state, for
example, “UW”, pronounced as “u-dub”, used as
an abbreviation for “University of Washington,” is

Short words are preferred, because in rapid
reading they’re easier to grasp than long ones.
This led to either the coining of new words or
the application of new functions to old ones.
For example, “investigation” became “probe” and
“to investigate” became “to quiz”. Other such
changes can be seen in the following:
criticize —-> hit
censure —-> rap
rebuke —-> score
arrest —-> nab
marry —-> wed
However, when it comes to slang, the best and
safest course is to avoid it.

Punctuation in headlines and sub-headlines
should follow the accepted rules. When
punctuation marks aren’t necessary for clarity,
they should be omitted.

That’s a bit of food for thought, isn’t it? What
difficulties have you experience when having to
come up with a headline?

Next post on Proofreading 101.

Till next time,

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