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Write Right

This book treats headline writing as a craft that can be learnt, a skill that can be honed and perfected.

india Updated: Feb 25, 2006 17:36 IST
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Headline Writing
by Sunil Saxena
Paperback
SAGE Publications
Pages: 220
Price: Rs 390
ISBN: 0-7619-3421-9

The importance of a headline for a news item hardly needs to be emphasized. It is perhaps the single most important factor that draws the reader`s attention to a story. Thus, while writing a compelling headline is a priority for anyone working on a news desk, this task is not easy to accomplish.

This book treats headline writing as a craft that can be learnt, a skill that can be honed and perfected. It examines in detail the basic elements of a headline and explains the best way to assemble them in order to write an arresting one. Sunil Saxena carefully examines the different kinds of headlines and the advantages and disadvantages of each style of writing. The book instructs the reader in:

- The functions of a headline
- The way to write a headline
- The different kinds of headlines
- The do's and don'ts of headline writing

The author also focuses on writing headlines for the Internet, a skill that is essential in the age of new media and technology. The book is well illustrated by examples and images from newspapers and news magazines. All these have been taken from the Indian media, so that readers can relate to the subject more easily. Exercises and highlighted points at the end of each chapter are useful tools for students of journalism to whom this book will appeal primarily. It will be equally useful for professional journalists.

Here is an excerpt:

Functions of a Headline

The tools may change and the editors may become more adventurous but one thing that will remain constant is the role of a headline. Headlines have traditionally performed six major functions and they will continue to do so in the future. The six functions are discussed below.

Index the news
The three news elements that arrest eye movement on a newspaper page are photographs, graphics and headlines. Of these, photographs and graphics tell a story visually while headlines tell a story in words. The number of words used to relate the story may be few but when taken together they work as a valuable index.

Establish news value
Headlines help readers judge the relative importance of a news report. This is not easily achieved because the reader has no formal training in gauging the true import of stories merely by looking at headlines. Much depends on the consistency of the headline writers in developing this awareness.

Depict the mood of the story
Headlines reflect emotions such as anger, joy or sadness by using appropriate adjectives of adverbs.

Set the tone of the newspaper
Headlines are the first indicator of a newspaper's policy. A tabloid generally prefers to use bold headlines set in big point size, whereas a mainstream newspaper that wants to convey a conservative image uses smaller point sizes and a quieter tone.

Provide typographical relief
Headlines constitute an important visual tool in brightening the newspaper. They provide typographical relief and make the page look livelier and more attractive, sometimes even without photographs. That is why editors, and now designers, take so much pain in identifying the typeface for headlines. The stress is on choosing a font that adds both weight and character to a newspaper and makes it visually more appealing.

Give identity
Headlines lend a distinct character and identity to a newspaper. Readers get accustomed to the typeface and the size of headlines used in their daily newspapers. That is why newspapers do not experiment with headlines; the paper's identity may be lost in the reader's mind. They use standard typefaces and point sizes in writing headlines and insist that these are allowed.