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Headlines: Purposes, Rules, and Tips

Ruby writes from the Philippines. She teaches Campus Journalism and other courses in HEI. She enjoys reading and traveling as her pastimes.


What is a headline?

The Cambridge Dictionary defines a headline as "a line of words printed in large letters as the title of a story in a newspaper, or the main points of the news that are broadcast on television or radio."

It is a heading in a newspaper for any written content, occasionally for an illustration, to indicate topic matter. It is printed in bigger type than the copy and has one or more words and lines, frequently several banks, and it is used to identify subject matter. It often appears at the top of the first page and is the largest of its kind. The headline usually catches the readers of the newspaper which attracts people to buy newspapers. I believe that this concept is also the idea of other readers every time they pic up to buy newspapers.

Purposes of Using Headlines

Whenever I buy a newspaper, I usually look at the headline. If the headline doesn't seem to interest me, I usually don't buy the newspaper. Most of the time, my buying is actually influenced by the headline. The headline impacts me as a reader.

Can you imagine a newspaper front page with only body type and no headlines? That is, all things that you see in front of you are tiny fonts and nothing else. Compare this mental image to a normal newspaper front page. Doesn't the genuine newspaper look better? Thus headlines must have purposes for being there on the pages of your paper. First, Headlines contrast with body type to improve the look of the page.

Headlines have other vital functions. Which newspaper story is most essential today? You immediately notice the three-column headline in the upper right corner, the largest on the website. Unimportant articles have modest headlines whereas important ones have enormous ones. So a second purpose is, Headlines rank news stories according to their importance.

Most newspaper readers don't have time to read all the news. You can only skim headlines. To provide a quick overview of the day's news, headlines must summarize key points. This is the reason why we have another purpose which is the third purpose. That is, the headline summarizes the story's most important information.


Basic Rules of Writing Headlines

According to Reddick, there are three important and fundamental rules in writing headlines that we need to know as journalists. These are:

1. Use the historical present tense instead of the past tense

Example: Senior High Students Win Impromptu Speech

2. Every deck of a headline must have a verb either expressed or implied.

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Example: President Marcos and Party

In Bacolod City Today

3. Use the active verb in preference to the passive.

Not: Potluck Held by Home and School

But: Home and School Hold Potluck

However, there is an exception to this rule. This happens when the person acted on is more important the agent of the action.

Example: Capt. Dela Cruz Hit By Motorcycle

Instead of: Motorcycle Hits Capt. Dela Cruz

5 Headline Writing Tips to Remember

An article's readability depends on its headline. It's crucial to know how to write better headlines for blogging sites, the main page of the news, or emotive feature stories. Each time I write news, I can think of five important words when faced with headlines. These words point to the fact of what are essentials in headlines.
1. Clarify. Punctuation and word order alter headline meaning. Avoid jargon and acronyms to avoid confusing readers. Simple headlines work. Readers should understand the article from the headline.
2. Concise. Use as few words as possible to summarize your article in a heading. Use energetic verbs that evoke a picture and keep your headline brief. A succinct title helps online articles rank better in search engines.
3. Practice. List your finest article headline ideas. Read each heading aloud to get the clearest, most persuasive one. Practice rewriting headlines from your favorite blogs or major sites.
4. Follow. Headlines that follow a formula work. To produce a better title, use a headline template. Search for these templates online.
5. Act. Headlines are verb-based. Think about action. Look for the most essential verbs in your news story that carry the essence or meaning of the news. Try to find this out when you analyze each of your stories. This will help you decide of the main action or focus of the story.


Cruz, C. J. (2010). Campus journalism and school paper advising. Sampaloc, Manila: Rex Bookstore, Inc.

Reddick, D.C. (1949). Journalism and the school paper. 4th ed. Boston: Harper.

© 2022 Ruby Campos

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