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Newspaper Headlines

The writing of headlines and titles requires a very specific skill. The two functions of headlines, informing the reader and capturing his attention, are often in conflict. The length of a text and the spread, i.e., whether it occupies one or several columns widths, determines the type of headline. The more important the item, the broader the spread of the headline, although this is limited by the general editorial policy of the paper.

Headlines have their own syntax, which is basically a shortening process. Articles and prepositions are omitted or reduced to a minimum, verbs appear as infinitives or particles, and it is often difficult to differentiate between the real subject and object of the statement made by the headline. In the headline “Firemen clamp down”, it is not clear whether this is a clamp down on the firemen, or whether the firemen are clamping down. Headlines can summarise the main information, e.g. “Databank bill on Tuesday”, or, “Butchers reminded of Law on Sausages”; this type is most common in law reporting. They may, however, only stimulate our curiosity – “Manxman Creates Pink Eggs in U.S.” An alternative in the Daily Mirror was “Oh, Mr. Porter, We are Proud of You!” Some headlines are deliberately ambiguous, e.g., that of a ballet review entitled “A Little More Style” may be read as a positive or a negative statement.

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