Headline Writing Guidelines

Checklist 1 min
Use this checklist to ensure the headline of any story has all of the necessary components to meet AP Style standards.

Use this checklist to ensure you meet all of the AP Style standards for writing a headline.

  1. Read the entire story; give the readers an idea of:
    1. What the story is about
    2. What kind of story it is (i.e. breaking news or feature)
  2. Summarize the story
    1. Summarize in one line
    2. MUST include a specific subject and an active verb
    3. Show how this particular story differs from others
  3. Use headline style
    1. Eliminate unnecessary words (i.e., a, an, the)
    2. Omit forms of the verb ‘to be’ (is, are, was, were)
    3. Use numerals
    4. Abbreviate days of the week and months
    5. Use present tense verbs, aka ‘historical present tense’
    6. Use strong verbs but avoid commanding verbs
    7. Follow a subject/verb-object structure
    8. Only the first word and proper nouns are capitalized
    9. Don't use a period at the end
    10. Use single quotes to quote material
    11. Use a comma as a substitute for "and"
    12. Use specific details if they are available
    13. Use only widely known acronyms and abbreviations
    14. Only use names when they're prominent and use only notable nicknames
  4. Determine headline "fit"
    1. Use the correct form and length to ensure it fits into the given space on the page where it will appear
    2. Use a headline designer to identify the layout and design as not to exceed the maximum character count for publishing
  5. To lengthen or shorten a headline, you may need to eliminate or substitute words, or change its focus entirely; ask these questions:
    1. What words could the headline live without and still make sense?
    2. What other words might convey the point equally well?
    3. Am I retaining the rules of headline writing style, such as using historical present tense and omitting articles?

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