The Record’s guide to headlines

[This is an evolving document]

Print media headlines have space constraints. Online media doesn’t have that restriction, but this brings up the difficulty of choice: how much should a headline convey? In the online world, it’s easy to get lost in the sea of information. Headlines grab the attention of the readers, introduce the topic of the article, highlight a particular issue, and set the tone of the article. The headlines determine how receptive your readers will be to the rest of the article. So how can headlines be more effective? Here are some pointers.

  • Be precise and to the point.
  • Don’t hesitate to make the headlines longer so that they introduce your article better.
  • No clickbait. Readers quickly become jaded.
  • Avoid question marks in the title.
  • Avoid colons. They take away from the directness of the headlines.
  • Consider search engine optimization (SEOs) for your headlines. This means include key terms in your headline so that the article shows up when readers look up the topic on search engines.

The whole point is to get info into people’s heads immediately. Wit is welcome, but write for the benefit of the reader, rather than to show how witty you are.

Subheads can create a tendency to write cryptic headlines; they become the explanation to prop up a bad headline that doesn’t tell you much about the piece. Write your headline as if there is no subhead to help expand on it (even if you do have to write a subhead).

At The Record, we opt to take a more informal tone by only capitalizing proper nouns and the first letter of the headline.

The high cost of low-wage labor
instead of The High Cost of Low-wage Labor

These are not hard and fast rules, of course, but more a set of recommendations. A few examples from our own publication:

Ekadeshma International Short Film Festival promotes young Nepali story tellers

Fast Track brings fear of displacement to Khokana

Hate and fear become more overt for Nepalis in Trump’s America

Describes the article thesis

Government pressure shut down play about Tibetan refugees before PM’s visit to China

Hindu mob attack feminists gathered in a park to discuss women’s security in public spaces

Explains the event being reported

The ruling Nepal Communist Party, among others, breaks the law to exclude women

Focuses on the most prominent point of the article

TRC completes preliminary investigations of less than one percent of cases in three years

Highlights a key finding in the piece

Of course, there are exceptions. Usually for pieces about literature, theatre and the arts, we use headlines that are less literal and may include references or metaphors:

The Silences of History

A book review of Ludwig Stiller’ The Silent Cry, the headline references the title of the book, and suggests that it is about underrepresented voices in history.

A voice from the past speaking to the present

A review of Laxmi Prasad Devkota’s collection of English essays that were written during the poet’s time but are still relevant to contemporary Nepal.


Further resources on how to write effective headlines:

How to write a New York Times headline

How to make great headlines (NPR)

The secrets of great headline writing (The Guardian)