Writing Strong Headlines

Headlines are incredible important for a publication, because they quickly tell the reader the most important part of the article. They are meant to attract attention, which explains their size compared to the rest of the text. Online rules for headlines are different than those on paper. The headline is constructed to match anticipated word searches online, while print does not have to accommodate for that.

Headlines should match the tone or mood of the story. The placement and size help determine how important a news story is. They should use present tense to describe past actions, which give news immediacy, and utilizes less space than past verbs do. Within a headline, articles are usually omitted to also save space. Good headline characteristics include: accuracy in fact, tone, scope, and focus; emphasizes the main theme of the story; easy to read and understand; balanced and fair summary of the story; and legally sound.

Each letter, punctuation mark and space in a headline is a unit, or portion of a unit. These are important, because they help editors to layout the entire page in a very organized and precise fashion. Lowercase letters, numbers and symbols are all classified as one unit. Uppercase letters are one and a half units. Finally, punctuation marks and spaces are half a unit. These measurements are very specific to the programs used to format the newspaper articles. They all must be organized to fit on the page in a reader-friendly way. Headline counting is a term used to describe the way an editor goes about spacing out each headline for a story. Computer programs have significantly simplified this process, but it is still important to know the basics. In the program used, 72-pt type is one inch tall, so each line of a 30-pt headline would be slightly less than half an inch tall. Editors should know how to manually count headlines, because technology cannot always be relied on.

Concerning placement, headlines are normally placed above the story, covering all columns that the story takes up. There are exceptions to these general rules. If above the story is not an option, a side head can be utilized, which places the headline to the left of the story. This is useful for filling a wide shallow space at the top of an inside page. If a graphic is being used, “raw wraps” or “dutch turns” can be seen, which are simply columns of text without a headline over them. Publications can utilize “banner headlines” which extend across the width of the page and usually stand alone.

Not every publication is the same with how headlines are utilized. Newspapers follow very specific rules whether they’re print or online forms, while magazines utilize headlines in a very different way. First, within the magazine industry, the words “title” and “subtitle” have replaced “headlines”. The primary purpose of a magazine title is to draw readers into the story. The title should peak the curiosity in readers by giving them a hint of what the story is about. Titles are normally accompanied by subtitles that expand and clarify the ideas, serving to further hook the readers. The title is integrated into the page by using color, specialty type faces, and words superimposed over photographs or other elements.

Source: “Creative Editing” by Dorothy A. Bowles, and Diane L. Borden