Headlines are the most visible sections of most publications and websites. They’re also the portion of a story on which the writer or editor usually spends the least amount of time. That’s unfortunate, because a creative and informative headline can draw a reader into a story, while a dull, uninformative headline can repel a reader.

The best headlines provide accurate, complete information quickly and attractively. The occasional use of puns, alliteration, balance and contrast, rhymes, proverbs, or twists of clichés, quotations or titles will help your headlines shine. But be careful not to rely on puns or playful wording at the expense of conveying information. Also, when writing for online audiences, an informative headline containing keywords will more likely be picked up by search engines and will guide readers to your article, whereas a clever headline that obscures the nature of the article may be overlooked by internet surfers searching for a specific topic.

A good headline will:

  • attract the reader’s attention
  • describe the story’s mood
  • set the tone of the publication
  • summarize the story
  • help readers index a page’s contents


Tips for writing good headlines

  • Read the story more than once before writing the headline.
  • Use a comma in place of the word “and.”
  • Abbreviate sparingly and avoid jargon; use only abbreviations most people would recognize.
  • Build the headline around key words from near the top of the story, but don’t copy the lead.
  • Make headlines complete. Be sure to have a subject and a predicate.
  • Avoid the passive tense. Use active verbs.
  • Be as specific as possible.
  • Avoid label headlines (“Honor Roll recipients”) except on obituaries or when space is limited.
  • Always verify facts and be sure the headline doesn’t have a double meaning.
  • Use present tense, even for events in the past.
  • Write “to,” not “will” for present tense. “Missouri S&T to offer new summer courses.”
  • Use single quotes in headlines — never double quotes.


  • most adjectives and adverbs
  • questions
  • slang
  • overworked or clichéd words
  • opinion or editorializing


  • abbreviate the university’s name as “MST, “MUST” or “MS&T” in headlines, photo captions or elsewhere in printed or online materials. “Missouri S&T” is the preferred usage for headlines. If space is an issue, “S&T” is an acceptable abbreviation (“S&T to offer new summer courses”).
  • invite libel or contempt with headlines.
  • begin with a verb, eliminating the subject.
  • use names that aren’t easily recognizable by all readers. If names are unrecognizable, use titles instead.
  • use a speaker’s name; what the speaker said is more important.
  • use extra words just to fill space.
  • repeat words.
  • split nouns and modifiers or verb forms and prepositional phrases over two lines unless space is the main consideration.
  • abbreviate months unless followed by a date; days of the week; a title without a person’s name; a person’s name; or the words “department,” “association” or “company” when used without the entity’s full name.

When space is limited:

  • “Missouri S&T” is the preferred name for headlines. If space is an issue, however, “S&T” is an acceptable abbreviation (“S&T to offer new summer courses”). Never abbreviate the university’s name as “MST, “MUST” or “MS&T” in headlines, captions or elsewhere in printed or online materials.
  • use numerals instead of spelling out figures.
  • state or a university name. For example: “S&T one of top 10 US universities,” or “S&T named top university in Mo.” No periods are used when abbreviating United States (US) in headlines.
  • abbreviate association, department or company if used with the full name.

Writing photo captions

Like headlines, photo captions — also called “cutlines” — should satisfy skimmers who don’t read the entire story. They also should help connect a photograph to the story, intrigue readers, dramatize the story or pull the reader into the story.

Every photograph should have a cutline, including specific information about the photo, describing action when necessary. When possible, cutlines should provide the reader information not contained in the story.

Make sure photographs match cutlines and everyone is identified.


  • Always look carefully at the photo before writing the cutline.
  • Don’t editorialize or include your opinion. Smiling students fishing from a dock may appear to be having a good time, but don’t imply that in your cutline.
  • Be specific. “A 50-foot sailboat” is better than “a big boat.”
  • Write “from left” rather than “from left to right.”
  • Write complete sentences.
  • Present tense is preferred, but past is acceptable. Never mix verb tenses in the same sentence.

Photo credits/copyright information

Be sure to provide photo credits or copyright information when appropriate. Typically, the photo credit or copyright information appears in small type beneath the lower right-hand corner of a photograph. Missouri S&T’s style when the photographer is known is “Name of Photographer, Business Name.” If using a fair use photo provided online to media, the preferred style is “Photo courtesy of Agency Name.”