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Headlines are the most-read part of any publication. Take advantage of reader curiosity by writing headlines that lure readers into your text.

What headlines should do

  • Attract readers’ attention.
  • Summarize the content and convey its importance.
  • Depict a mood.
  • Help set the tone of a publication.
  • Provide typographic relief.


  • Read the text more than once before writing the headline.
  • Draw headline ideas from information near top of the story. Build around key words, but don't parrot the opening sentences.
  • Capitalize only the first letter of the first word and proper nouns. Example: Men require more sleep, study reveals. If your publication uses uppercase title style instead, be consistent.
  • Make sure the headline has a subject and a predicate.
  • Be as specific as possible.
  • Use active verbs.
  • Verify accuracy; be certain the headline doesn’t have a double meaning, such as Assault classes planned for a story about domestic violence awareness.
  • Write in the present tense, even for events in the past.
  • Use single quotes instead of double quotes in headlines.
  • Use a comma for the word "and" if you need to save space.

What to avoid

  • Avoid negatively stated headlines. Department cancels picnic is preferable to Department’s picnic not held.
  • Avoid excessive adjectives and adverbs.
  • Avoid repetitive language, such as University professor gets university’s top leadership award.
  • Avoid slang.
  • Avoid overused words and cliches.
  • Avoid editorializing and using loaded terms.
  • Avoid imperative verbs, aka the command form.
  • Avoid abbreviations.
  • Don’t split nouns and modifiers, verb forms or prepositional phrases over two lines. 
  • Don’t invite libel or contempt.
  • Don’t pad a headline with extra words just to make it fit.

Tools to make feature headlines sparkle

  • Puns
  • Alliteration
  • Twists on idioms or proverbs
  • Rhyme
  • Balance and contrast
  • Pairing the headline with photos and graphics


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