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The Craft of Headline Writing
Rachele Kanigel
The Student Newspaper Survival Guide
10 Rules of Headline Writing
1. First, do no harm.
10 Rules of Headline Writing
2. Be accurate.
10 Rules of Headline Writing
3. Don’t just state the obvious.
10 Rules of Headline Writing
4. Write clearly and succinctly, using
words real people use.
10 Rules of Headline Writing
5. Use strong, active verbs.
10 Rules of Headline Writing
6. Avoid bias.
10 Rules of Headline Writing
7. Capture the essence of the story
10 Rules of Headline Writing
8. Use the
appropriate
tone
for the story
10 Rules of Headline Writing
9. Don’t cannibalize your lede.
10 Rules of Headline Writing
10. Watch out for
unintended
puns.
What’s wrong with this headline?
Law profs
nix Thomas
Avoid “forced” abbreviations and headlinese
How often do you say “ni...
What’s wrong with this headline?
Board of Education meets
So what happened? Report the news!
What’s wrong with this headline?
Potential witness
to murder drunk
It’s confusing. Is the potential witness going to murde...
What’s wrong with this headline?
Air head
fired
If an airline head was truly fired you wouldn’t write a flip
headline like...
What’s wrong with this headline?
Federal agents
raid gun shop,
find weapons
Duh!
What’s wrong with this headline?
Missippi’s literacy
program shows
improvement
Spell all words correctly!
What’s wrong with this headline?
Tiger Woods plays with own balls,
Nike says
Watch out for double meanings, especially sex...
What’s wrong with this headline?
What’s wrong with this headline?
What’s wrong with this headline?
Cop picks
open can
of worms
Another confusing one. Make sure it’s clear.
And avoid cliche...
Some good headlines:
• Dr. Seuss, man of rhyme and reason, dies
at 87
• Inmate Flees in Boxers, But Freedom is
Brief
• Off...
Headline hints
• Think of a headline like a jigsaw puzzle.
• First come up with key words.
• Then free-associate around th...
After you have written a headline, ask:
• Does it tell the news clearly?
• If it's a news story, does the headline
contain...
Headline Checklist
• Is it compelling in approach, news angle
and impact?
• Does it contain concrete nouns and
active-voic...
Headline Checklist
• Does it avoid the obstacles to clarity?
1. Jargon
2. Cliches
3. Obscure names and puns: Serious news
...
Headline Checklist
• Does it have words or meanings that are
as precise as possible?
• Does it make each word count by bei...
Headline Checklist
• Does it avoid danger of libel, take caution
with sensitive material and include
attribution when nece...
Headline Checklist – Things to
Avoid
• Inappropriate language or a tone that
doesn't fit the story.
• Exaggerating conflic...
Headline Checklist – Things to
Avoid
• Inappropriate assumptions or
interpretations.
• Piled-up adjectives or other modifi...
Headline Checklist – Things to
Avoid
• Assumptions that the reader has been
following the story daily.
• Obscure names tha...
Headline Checklist – Things to
Avoid
• Conclusions the story doesn't back up.
• Jargon, which clouds the meaning for
reade...
Headline Checklist – Things to
Avoid
• Echoing the lede or stealing the
punchline.
• A hard-news head based on facts far
d...
Online headlines
• Must be more literal – be wary of puns,
vague references
• Think SEO; use searchable keywords
• Be clea...
Example
• Bad online headline: Snowshoer, 66,
survives weekend lost in woods
• Good online headline: Mount Rainier
park of...
For more tips on headline writing
check out
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Headline writing

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Transcript of "Headline writing"

  1. 1. The Craft of Headline Writing Rachele Kanigel The Student Newspaper Survival Guide
  2. 2. 10 Rules of Headline Writing 1. First, do no harm.
  3. 3. 10 Rules of Headline Writing 2. Be accurate.
  4. 4. 10 Rules of Headline Writing 3. Don’t just state the obvious.
  5. 5. 10 Rules of Headline Writing 4. Write clearly and succinctly, using words real people use.
  6. 6. 10 Rules of Headline Writing 5. Use strong, active verbs.
  7. 7. 10 Rules of Headline Writing 6. Avoid bias.
  8. 8. 10 Rules of Headline Writing 7. Capture the essence of the story
  9. 9. 10 Rules of Headline Writing 8. Use the appropriate tone for the story
  10. 10. 10 Rules of Headline Writing 9. Don’t cannibalize your lede.
  11. 11. 10 Rules of Headline Writing 10. Watch out for unintended puns.
  12. 12. What’s wrong with this headline? Law profs nix Thomas Avoid “forced” abbreviations and headlinese How often do you say “nix”?
  13. 13. What’s wrong with this headline? Board of Education meets So what happened? Report the news!
  14. 14. What’s wrong with this headline? Potential witness to murder drunk It’s confusing. Is the potential witness going to murder a drunk? Oh, I get it. The witness to a murder was drunk. Avoid unintentional double meanings.
  15. 15. What’s wrong with this headline? Air head fired If an airline head was truly fired you wouldn’t write a flip headline like this. Be sensitive.
  16. 16. What’s wrong with this headline? Federal agents raid gun shop, find weapons Duh!
  17. 17. What’s wrong with this headline? Missippi’s literacy program shows improvement Spell all words correctly!
  18. 18. What’s wrong with this headline? Tiger Woods plays with own balls, Nike says Watch out for double meanings, especially sexual ones
  19. 19. What’s wrong with this headline?
  20. 20. What’s wrong with this headline?
  21. 21. What’s wrong with this headline? Cop picks open can of worms Another confusing one. Make sure it’s clear. And avoid cliches, especially wordy ones.
  22. 22. Some good headlines: • Dr. Seuss, man of rhyme and reason, dies at 87 • Inmate Flees in Boxers, But Freedom is Brief • Off to Seize the Lizard (for a story on the hunt for an escaped iguana) • She Took Her Viola to France and ... Voilà! (for a story on a foreign exchange student)
  23. 23. Headline hints • Think of a headline like a jigsaw puzzle. • First come up with key words. • Then free-associate around the key words. • For feature stories make a list of catch phrases, movie titles, expressions that relate to the key words.
  24. 24. After you have written a headline, ask: • Does it tell the news clearly? • If it's a news story, does the headline contain the latest developments? • If it's a feature story, does it convey the basic sense of the story? • Is it accurate and informative? --From the American Press Institute Headline checklist
  25. 25. Headline Checklist • Is it compelling in approach, news angle and impact? • Does it contain concrete nouns and active-voice, present-tense verbs? • Does the tone fit the story, so that when there is emotion or a human element, irony or humor it is reflected in the head?
  26. 26. Headline Checklist • Does it avoid the obstacles to clarity? 1. Jargon 2. Cliches 3. Obscure names and puns: Serious news stories should not contain any puns. 4. Forced phrases 5. Headlinese 6. Abbreviations 7. Acronyms 8. Slang
  27. 27. Headline Checklist • Does it have words or meanings that are as precise as possible? • Does it make each word count by being direct and dense with information? • Does it play fair by trying to reflect both sides of a story if an opposing view exists, or at least avoid overemphasizing one point of view?
  28. 28. Headline Checklist • Does it avoid danger of libel, take caution with sensitive material and include attribution when necessary? • Does it include the "where" when important? Does it signal any local involvement in the news when it may not be clear otherwise? • Does it avoid elements of bad taste, double meanings, exaggeration and sensationalism?
  29. 29. Headline Checklist – Things to Avoid • Inappropriate language or a tone that doesn't fit the story. • Exaggerating conflict, danger, criticism, etc. • Editorialization or words that suggest an opinion of the head-writer. • A "negative" head using the word "not.“
  30. 30. Headline Checklist – Things to Avoid • Inappropriate assumptions or interpretations. • Piled-up adjectives or other modifiers that detract from clarity. • Undue familiarity, often by using a person's first name. • Abbreviations or acronyms that are not instantly recognizable.
  31. 31. Headline Checklist – Things to Avoid • Assumptions that the reader has been following the story daily. • Obscure names that readers won't instantly recognize. • A "label head," unless omitting the verb helps the head or the count is so short that a "book title" head is the only way out.
  32. 32. Headline Checklist – Things to Avoid • Conclusions the story doesn't back up. • Jargon, which clouds the meaning for readers. • Cliches, which are neither creative nor compelling. • Meanings the reader won't "get" until the story is read.
  33. 33. Headline Checklist – Things to Avoid • Echoing the lede or stealing the punchline. • A hard-news head based on facts far down in the story. • Puns in heads on serious news stories. • Putting first-day heads on second-day stories.
  34. 34. Online headlines • Must be more literal – be wary of puns, vague references • Think SEO; use searchable keywords • Be clear • Ask questions • Be provocative
  35. 35. Example • Bad online headline: Snowshoer, 66, survives weekend lost in woods • Good online headline: Mount Rainier park official: Snowshoer found alive
  36. 36. For more tips on headline writing check out
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