Captions and Headlines

Part 1 - Captions


The Basics:

Captions are small bits of information given to the reader in digestible chunks, telling them everything they need to know about the photo. They can even be made more personal with a quote from someone in the photo.

You still need to interview those involved and stick to the facts. Use the 5 Ws - Who, What, When, Where, Why and How.

Hot tip - ABCD model:

Do’s and Dont’s:



  • List 3-5 words that grab the reader’s attention and link the photo and caption together.
  • Lead-in states the obvious in an unobvious way.
  • Include the 5 Ws and 1 H
  • Use a variety of adjectives and adverbs
  • Be descriptive
  • Use strong, visual specific nouns
  • Consider the action before and during the photo and reaction to the event
  • Use colourful, lively, visual action verbs
  • Write in present tense and use active voice (unless changing tense to make it logical)
  • Be factual
  • Use a variety of sentence patterns
  • Identify all people in the picture (up to seven)
  • Use complete sentences
  • Use first and last names
  • Don’t state the obvious
  • Don’t begin leads with names of overuse the same lead pattern
  • Don’t use label leads (example: basketball girls, swimmers, etc…)
  • Don’t use an excessive amount of -ing verbs
  • Avoid “During” to begin the lead as it’s overused
  • Don’t use “Pictured/showed Above,” “Seems/attempts to”
  • Avoid using “to be” verbs
  • Don’t use “gag” or joke captions
  • Don’t comment or question the action in the picture; you are telling the reader what happened, not conversing with him.


Hint: What is the student doing? Testing electrical boards to ensure they were safe to use and would turn on the light bulb.

Hint: What does the inside of a pumpkin feel like? You probably know. Help the readers know what it is like to stick your hand inside a pumpkin.

Electric Engineers! Students test electric boards to ensure safety. A group of brave high schoolers took the challenge head-on and tested electrical boards for a learning and educational experience, combating the risk of an electric shock and shortages. “It was a great experience, and it was really exciting to learn about how all of our lighting works,” said Rico Hernandez(left).

Pumpkin monster! In Westside Preschool, kids get prepared for Halloween by sticking their hand inside a pumpkin. When they were about to start carving for the jack o'lantern, Jeff shouted, “This is so disgusting but fun!!”

Musical chairs. Jessica Peterson (left) and Mary Lopez (right); very hot on day (two people experienced heat exhaustion); competition between homeroom classes; Occurred on Se6; “I couldn’t see so I sat really quickly on someone and when I looked, it was Mary [my best friend], so it was the perfect person to sit on. It just stunk that I was still out,” Peterson said; :The music ended so quickly. I just sat as quickly as I could. I thought it was so funny that Jessica ended up on my lap,” Lopez said.

Clark Thornton plays a townsman who has a bad back; play was called ‘Anatomy of Gray; from act 4-6 at 7pm in school auditorium; Debra Christopher, a former student, directed the play; This program earned a number of awards; “Being able to play a crazy man was so much fun,” Thornton said.

DANCE, FREEZE, SIT! On September 6th the fundraising group Unicef held a heated musical chairs contest. The group raised over 100$ in this fun, musical game, with over 20 participants including Jessica Peterson (left) and Mary Lopez (right). Lopez said, “ I thought it was so funny that Jessica ended up on my lap.”

Ouch! Clark Thornton plays a townsman with a bad back in "Anatomy of Gray". Directed by Debra Christopher, this program was performed in the school auditorium and earned a number of awards. "Being able to play a crazy man was so much fun," commented Thornton.

Special Considerations:


Group Shots

Helpful Hints

  • Identify players and opponents by jersey number and name
  • State position of the player
  • Consider plays leading up to the action
  • Tell the result or outcome        
  • Begin with name of group
  • Identify from left to right, but don’t write that as part of the caption
  • Give clear row designation in a different font than text
    e.g. (
    FRONT: person 1, person 2)
  • Attend the event and know what you are writing about
  • Write the caption as soon as possible after the picture was taken
  • Identify everyone in the photo
  • Describe what is happening in the exact moment of the photo
  • Give your photo a timeframe
  • Avoid passive voice
  • Don’t add unnecessary phrases such as “left to right” or “pictured above”
  • Check and recheck the spelling of the names and text
  • NEVER make up information

Part 2 - Headlines


The Basics:

Headlines need to grab a reader’s attention by being catchy, visual, understandable and powerful. These days, headlines often work with the dominant photo and story, not the entire spread’s focus. The headline should also be unique to the year you are writing about, not so general as to be able to use it any time.



  • Make sure the headline tells the story
  • Be positive: focus on what happened, not what didn’t (but avoid opinion)
  • Be descriptive but brief
  • Use strong, visual-specific noun
  • Use visual action verbs
  • Write in present tense, active voice
  • Try to have a subject, verb and direct object, but not prepositional phrases, which often make headlines too long
  • Is there a clever play on words you can use? Alliteration? Quote?
  • Articles: a, an, the
  • And - replace it with a comma (e.g. Staff, students choose longer school day)
  • Names unless they are really well known
  • Label leads (example: Girls soccer earns title - it’s the girls soccer page, obviously you aren’t writing about the football team on this spread.)
  • Repetition of words, especially key words
  • Beginning with a verb - it usually sounds like a command
  • Asking questions - headlines provide information about the story’s content
  • Periods - they stop a reader. A headline in meant to pull people into the story quickly.
  • The verb ‘be’ - write in active voice.


Kicker - a word or phrase that labels the topic and leads into the main headline. The items leading the reader in are usually smaller in font size and weight.


They’re back in the spotlight!


Hammer - The opposite of a kicker. Uses a bold phrase or word to catch the reader’s attention, then adds more information below.



Twenty years after their debut, plastic shoes are fashionable again

Slammer - Uses a boldface word or phrase that leads the reader into a contrasting main headline. Usually a colon after the initial words.



PRACTICE #1 - What is wrong with the following headlines?

  1. We give our patients H1N1
  2. Police begin campaign to run down jaywalkers
  3. Two sisters reunited after 19 years in checkout counter
  4. Kids make nutritious snacks
  5. Never withhold infection from love one
  6. Red tape holds up new bridge
  7. Ban on soliciting dead in Trotwood
  8. Local high school dropouts cut in half
  9. Deaf college opens doors to hearing
  10. Prosecutor releases probe into undersheriff

PRACTICE #2 - Rewrite the following headlines to correct an obvious error

  1. Calendar announced by SGS for homecoming activities
  2. English teachers incorporate changed in language arts curriculum
  3. Win state title
  4. Braves defeated conference rival
  5. The SGA collected 250 kg of canned goods
  6. Thompson leads team to victory
  7. Boys basketball beats opponents
  8. Gridmen defeat opponents easily
  9. Co-captains guide the team to wins
  10. Can you use all the new technology?