The headline or heading is the text indicating the nature of the article below it.

The large type front page headline did not come into use until the late 19th century when increased competition between newspapers led to the use of attention-getting headlines.

It is sometimes termed a news hed, a deliberate misspelling that dates from production flow during hot type days, to notify the composing room that a written note from an editor concerned a headline and should not be set in type.[1]

Headlines in English often use a set of grammatical rules known as headlinese, designed to meet stringent space requirements by, for example, leaving out forms of the verb "to be" and choosing short verbs like "eye" over longer synonyms like "consider".


The New York Times uses an unusually large headline to announce the Armistice with Germany at the end of World War I.
The New York Times uses an unusually large headline to announce the Armistice with Germany at the end of World War I.

A headline's purpose is to quickly and briefly draw attention to the story. It is generally written by a copy editor, but may also be written by the writer, the page layout designer, or other editors. The most important story on the front page above the fold may have a larger headline if the story is unusually important. The New York Times's 21 July 1969 front page stated, for example, that "MEN WALK ON MOON", with the four words in gigantic size spread from the left to right edges of the page.[2]

In the United States, headline contests are sponsored by the American Copy Editors Society, the National Federation of Press Women, and many state press associations; some contests consider created content already published,[3] others are for works written with winning in mind.[4]

Famous examples

Some famous headlines in periodicals include:

The New Republic editor Michael Kinsley began a contest to find the most boring newspaper headline.[12] According to him, no entry surpassed the one that had inspired him to create the contest: "WORTHWHILE CANADIAN INITIATIVE",[13] over a column by The New York Times' Flora Lewis.[14] In 2003, New York Magazine published a list of eleven "greatest tabloid headlines".[15]


Research in 1980 classified newspaper headlines into four broad categories: questions, commands, statements, and explanations.[16] Advertisers and marketers classify advertising headlines slightly differently into questions, commands, benefits, news/information, and provocation.[17]


See also: Journalese

Headlinese has a long history. This example is the front page of the Los Angeles Herald issue of May 29, 1916.
Headlinese has a long history. This example is the front page of the Los Angeles Herald issue of May 29, 1916.

Headlinese is an abbreviated form of news writing style used in newspaper headlines.[18] Because space is limited, headlines are written in a compressed telegraphic style, using special syntactic conventions,[19] including:

Some periodicals have their own distinctive headline styles, such as Variety and its entertainment-jargon headlines, most famously "Sticks Nix Hick Pix".

Commonly used short words

To save space and attract attention, headlines often use extremely short words, many of which are not otherwise in common use, in unusual or idiosyncratic ways:[25][26][27] [28]



The use of "slam" in headlines has attracted criticism on the grounds that the word is overused and contributes to media sensationalism.[31][32] The violent imagery of words like "slam", "blast", "rip", and "bash" has drawn comparison to professional wrestling, where the primary aim is to titillate audiences with a conflict-laden and largely predetermined narrative, rather than provide authentic coverage of spontaneous events.[33]

Crash blossoms

Main article: Syntactic ambiguity § In headlines

"Crash blossoms" is a term used to describe headlines that have unintended ambiguous meanings, such as The Times headline "Hospitals named after sandwiches kill five". The word 'named' is typically used in headlines to mean "blamed/held accountable/named [in a lawsuit]",[34] but in this example it seems to say that the hospitals' names were related to sandwiches. The headline was subsequently changed in the electronic version of the article to remove the ambiguity.[35] The term was coined in August 2009 on the Testy Copy Editors web forum[36] after the Japan Times published an article entitled "Violinist Linked to JAL Crash Blossoms"[37] (since retitled to "Violinist shirks off her tragic image").[38]

See also


  1. ^ NY Times: On Language: HED
  2. ^ Wilford, John Noble (14 July 2009). "On Hand for Space History, as Superpowers Spar". The New York Times. Retrieved 24 April 2011.
  3. ^ "Headline Contest".
  4. ^ A NYTimes contest to write a NYPost-style headline"After Winning N.Y. Times Contest". The New York Times. November 11, 2011.
  5. ^ Scharfenberg, Kirk (1982-11-06). "Now It Can Be Told . . . The Story Behind Campaign '82's Favorite Insult". The Boston Globe. Boston, Massachusetts. p. 1. Retrieved 2011-01-20.(subscription required)
  6. ^ Fox, Margalit (2016-06-09). "Vincent Musetto, 74, Dies; Wrote 'Headless' Headline of Ageless Fame". The New York Times.
  7. ^ Daily News (New York), 9/25/1979, p. 1
  8. ^ "Telegraph wins newspaper vote". BBC News. 25 May 2006.
  9. ^ Great Satan sits down with the Axis of Evil
  10. ^ "Underwear bandit caught, admits brief crime spree".
  11. ^ "Super Caley dream realistic?". BBC. 22 March 2003.
  12. ^ Kinsley, Michael (1986-06-02). "Don't Stop The Press". The New Republic. Retrieved April 26, 2011.
  13. ^ Lewis, Flora (4 October 1986). "Worthwhile Canadian Initiative". The New York Times. Retrieved 9 March 2013.
  14. ^ Kinsley, Michael (28 July 2010). "Boring Article Contest". The Atlantic. Retrieved 26 April 2011.
  15. ^ "Greatest Tabloid Headlines". March 31, 2003. Archived from the original on January 22, 2009. Retrieved February 11, 2009.
  16. ^ Davis & Brewer 1997, p. 56.
  17. ^ Arens 1996, p. 285.
  18. ^ Headlinese Collated definitions via
  19. ^ Isabel "Newspaper Headlines"
  20. ^ "Bush, Blair laugh off microphone mishap". CNN. July 21, 2006. Archived from the original on August 16, 2007. Retrieved July 17, 2007.
  21. ^ a b Pack, Mark (2020). Bad News: What the Headlines Don't Tell Us. Biteback. p. 100-102.
  22. ^ "Ultra-processed foods 'linked to cancer'". BBC News. 2018-02-15. Retrieved 2021-02-26.
  23. ^ Pullum, Geoffrey (2009-01-14). "Mendacity quotes". Language Log. Retrieved 2021-02-26.
  24. ^ "The Secrets You Learn Working at Celebrity Gossip Magazines". 2018-09-12. Retrieved 2021-02-26.
  25. ^ Chad Pollitt (March 5, 2019). "Which Types of Headlines Drive the Most Content Engagement Post-Click?". Social Media Today.
  26. ^ "19 Headline Writing Tips for More Clickable Blog Posts". August 27, 2019.
  27. ^ "21 Viral headline examples". 6 June 2016.
  28. ^ Ash Read (August 24, 2016). "There's No Perfect Headline: Why We Need to Write Multiple Headlines for Every Article".
  29. ^ "When the Court was a Cage", Sports Illustrated
  30. ^ "Is confab still used?"
  31. ^ Ann-Derrick Gaillot (2018-07-28). "The Outline "slams" media for overusing the word". The Outline. Retrieved 2020-02-24.
  32. ^ Kehe, Jason (9 September 2009). "Colloquialism slams language". Daily Trojan.
  33. ^ Russell, Michael (8 October 2019). "Biden 'Rips' Trump, Yankees 'Bash' Twins: Is Anyone Going to 'Slam' the Press?". PolitiChicks.
  34. ^ Pérez, Isabel. "Newspaper Headlines". English as a Second or Foreign Language. Retrieved 31 March 2020.
  35. ^ Brown, David (18 June 2019). "Hospital trusts named after sandwiches kill five". The Times. Retrieved 31 March 2020.
  36. ^ Zimmer, Ben (Jan 31, 2010). "Crash Blossoms". New York Times Magazine. Retrieved 31 March 2020.
  37. ^ subtle_body; danbloom; Nessie3. "What's a crash blossom?". Testy Copy Editors. Retrieved 31 March 2020.
  38. ^ Masangkay, May (18 August 2009). "Violinist shirks off her tragic image". The Japan Times. Retrieved 31 March 2020.

Further reading