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Guide, checklists for mastering art of headline writing, by Aisha Musa Auyo


Guide, checklists for mastering art of headline writing, by Aisha Musa Auyo

From time immemorial, headline castings have been an issue for many reporters. Many beautiful write-ups have been ignored due to shady or poor headlines. Paradoxically, ill-written reports or papers have been well-read because of beautiful and captivating headlines. In essence, your headline is the most important part of any written article, be it news, feature, or report.

The ultimate function of a headline is to grab attention. Writing a great piece of content doesn’t mean much if it is never seen or read. And it is the role of the headline to attract readers to a particular story.

Another function of the headline is to indicate the benefit and to make a promise to the reader that reading that piece would be worth it. The more specific the benefit, the more likely the reader is to read. Great headlines make specific promises.

From a headline, experts could gauge the proficiency and expertise of a writer, or a media house in general.

Headline writing and style have made many writers very prominent. Headline styles have given birth to newspaper columns, and sometimes, books. By extensive and consistent reading and writing, a writer or reporter can develop the art of carving a headline, which will attract readers’ attention and sometimes provoke engagement and rejoinders.

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However, there are basic rules and checklists for headlines that writers and reporters should familiarize themselves with.

A headline should be specific and be able to summarize the story or topic. It should be able to tell how that particular story differs from others

When carving a headline, the writer should;

  • Eliminate unnecessary words (i.e., a, an, the)
  • Omit forms of the verb ‘to be’ (is, are, was, were)
  • Use numerals
  • Abbreviate the days of the week and months
  • Use present tense verbs, aka ‘historical present tense’
  • Use strong verbs but avoid commanding verbs
  • Start with the subject/verb then proceed with the object
  • Only the first word and proper nouns are capitalized
  • Don’t use a period at the end
  • Use single quotes to quote material
  • Use a comma as a substitute for “and”
  • Use specific details if they are available
  • Use only widely known acronyms and abbreviations
  • Only use names when they’re prominent and use only notable nicknames

To lengthen or shorten a headline, you may need to eliminate or substitute words, or change its focus entirely; ask yourself these questions:

1. What words could the headline live without and still make sense?
2. What other words might convey the point equally well?
3. Am I retaining the rules of headline writing style, such as using historical present tense and omitting articles?

A writer should also be able to differentiate between the headlines of a news report, article, feature, and opinion.

Reporters should pay attention to the corrections made by their editors. This could be done easily by comparing their initial reports with the edited version. This would prevent repeating mistakes and will be a practical learning process that will improve one’s writing.

Aisha Musa Auyo is a Doctorate researcher in Educational Psychology. A wife, and a mother of three. She is a homemaker, caterer, and parenting/ relationship coach.

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  1. Yusuf Nasidi says

    Re-Guide, checklists for mastering art of headline writing by Aisha Musa Auyo

    This is a vital topic and an aspect of writing that every writer should be acquainted with for actualisation of purpose. The discuss therein succinctly provided ample information that are prerequisites for attainment of goals as per as the art of writing is concerned.

    Before now, I thought it’s recommended to use upper case for initial words of headlines, just learnt that it’s only the first word and proper nouns. Even though, I’ve seen publishers accepting capitalisation of the entire headline and/or use of capital letters for initial words.

    The use of comma instead of coordinating conjunction ‘and’ is common. However, in some cases, it doesn’t give the needed plausibility. With the explanation given, one would have to learn how to coin it to give the desired result.

    Despite being recommended, the use of numerals is not common in headlines, but in the body. It’s likely that reasons necessitating the usage do not pop up at times.

    I’ve noticed with interest, not only in this article, but others of yours, the random use of short paragraphs. Some coming in just a sentence, two sentences and others, normal. Is it your personal style or also recommended as well?

    May you live long to continue giving back to the society; knowledge, wisdom and experience.

    Thank you.

    1. Neptune Prime says

      Thank you very much.

  2. Sarki Attahiru says

    Well said my doctor

  3. Sarki Attahiru says


  4. Florence says

    Love it

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