Headline and cutline writing guidlelines

For EMAC Basics of Reporting and Journalism B

Please be sure to follow these guidelines as you write headlines and cutlines for your WordPress site.


–      Give each headline an action verb: “Attorney showdown heats up”

–      Do not capitalize each word in the headline; only the first word and proper nouns. Do not end with a period. Avoid articles (a, an, the) as much as possible

–      Use present tense for past events: “Coppell names new principal” rather than “Coppell principal named yesterday”

–      Use the following for future events: “Obama to visit Coppell”

–      Use short words. Be creative, especially with mascots or names: “Cowboys corral Dragons in upset win”

–      Use comma for ‘and’ and a semicolon for a period: “Cowboys fire Phillips; name Garrett interim coach”

–      To preserve space, use the numerical figure regarding numbers: “Schools to close for 5 days”

–      Do not use more than one acronym (DECA, SADD, FCA, NTHS) per headline

–      Be careful with negatives. You want the headline to be objective

–      Do not repeat any words – this includes repetition from a main headline to a secondary headline


A cutline needs to add to a photograph. Great photographs can often tell a story themselves but cutlines can really enhance the story for the reader. A cutline tells the 5 W’s and an H. It shares the experience of the photographer with the audience by adding the details that a reader might not know since they were not there to experience it.

With photos of six people or less, you must identify all people by name and title (title can be their grade). All cutlines must answer the 5 W’s and an H (for the when, do your very best – at a minimum, give the year the photo was taken but if you can be more specific with date/month, please do so).

Captions cannot be opinionated and must be complete sentences. Each caption needs to be at least two sentences. Verbs need to be in present tense as much as possible as you want to bring life to the photo and describe the action as if the audience is watching the photo take place in person.

When identifying a group of people in a photo, list from left to right or start with the most prominent person in the photo, regardless of their location. For example, if there are five people in the photo but four of them are watching the fifth person juggle bowling pins, you would identify the juggler first then the remaining four observers from left to right.

Tip: candid photos work best. Six friends just standing together is not only boring for somebody who is not friends with these people but it makes it much more challenging to write an engaging cutline. Take action photos relative to the story topic.

Example cutline:

Journalism teacher Chase Wofford (right) assists freshman students Mary Sue and Bobby Jack write cutlines during first period on Friday. Sue and Jack are planning to apply for The Sidekick newspaper as photographers and will need to write cutlines for their photographs.


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