Thursday , August 18 2022

Why you should avoid using label headlines in writing for Nigerian mass media

Headlines are very essential in print media business. The primary aim of every newspaper or magazine is to get readers to read the content and one of the basic ways of achieving that is through a good headline. The headline summarizes the main gist of a story. It is the flag that attracts attention to the story and arouses the interest of readers to check out the content of that story. The headline helps the reader to identify the nature of the news so that they don’t have to go through the entire news to understand what it is about. The headline has to appeal to the readers and should be interesting enough to make the readers read the news below.

There are several kinds of headlines found in newspapers and magazines. One of them is the label headline. This is the focus of this article. Whether it is proper to use the label headline or not and when to use it, if you have to, is what this piece explains.

What is label headline?

This is a headline that identifies a topic or mentions the theme of a story without saying anything about the story itself. If it is business story for instance, about a decision taken by a company to launch a new product, the headline could say “Business Decision”, or “New Product Launch” without giving an idea of what or who took the decision, or which kind of product was launched. Proper headlines give an idea of these other aspects of the story but the label head only identifies the theme of the story without saying anything further. The label headline identifies the topic but it does not say anything about it. Mary Pretzer, design columnist of Editor’s Workshop, a newsletter, said that good headlines “need at least two things… a noun and a verb.”

Label heads are nouns or noun phrases without verbs. So they look like they are hanging, without enough information about the story. They look like ‘abandoned kickers’, more like they need riders to make them clearer. These kinds of headlines are not used for straight news reports. They are best suited for feature stories. Even at that, they have to be carefully used in order not to make a story dull.

You find these kinds of headlines in newspapers and magazines, especially used for very short, quick informative articles which are often capsule features (articles written in one or two, sometimes three paragraphs). Some examples are as follows: Bulletins, Meetings, Volunteers, Chemical update, Manager’s letter, Appointments, Health considerations, Disposable air cleaners, Innovation & Growth Video Series, etc. You could find headlines like these ones in newspapers and magazines.

The label head is also used to refer to permanent headlines that appear on specific pages of a newspaper to introduce specialized sections. For instance, the business section of a newspaper could have the headline “Business Insight, Business Vanguard, or Business World.” This headline appears permanently to introduce the business page, or to “label” the introductory page of the business section of the newspaper. It could be Sports Today, Punch Sports or Technology Watch.

Why you should avoid label headlines

There is the possibility that you could lose your reader with a bad headline. This is why having a good and lively headline is very essential. Wylie Communications advises against using label heads especially for stories that are not features. According to Wylie Communications, Label headlines carry a double problem because they skip the verb, so they suck the action out of a headline and they don’t say anything about the topic. Among the reasons given on why label headlines should be avoided are as follows;

1. You miss the chance to communicate

This is because Headlines get twice the attention of text. They change the way we think. “Readers” might not read anything else. If your headline says nothing, you might have lost your best opportunity to reach and impress the huge and growing percentage of your audience who just read the display copy.

2. Label headlines make your story dull and boring

Some readers use headlines to decide whether to read a story while some other readers get all of their information from the display copy. If your headline says Strategy statement, it is almost certain that readers will choose not to dive in.

3. Label headlines sap the energy from your story

Having verbs in headlines make stories lively. Without verbs, your story has no action. Without verbs, there are no benefits. Readers can’t see what they could do differently with your product, service, program or idea.


How you can fix a label headline

Here’s how to correct a problem associated with label headline. You can actually have a simple headline with a verb but without making it a label headline. Wylie Communication also provides solution on how to fix label heads.

1. Always say something about the topic

If you find yourself writing a headlines like “Transport Company,” ask yourself “Transport Company what?” Or what about Transport Company? Are we for it or against it? Should the reader choose the company or not? What kind of transport company is that? The answer will help make the headline more meaningful and capable of attracting the reader to continue with the story. You could have a better option with “Enjoy Affordable Bus Services” or “Bringing You Comfort on Wheels”.

2. Add a verb to the headline

Verbs make a headline lively and the headline gives an idea of how interesting a story could be. “A story is a verb, not a noun,” writes one of the former editors of The New York Times. That means that something essential is missing from a label head. Unless you’re writing a feature headline, use a dynamic verb in every headline. You have added advantage for putting that verb in present tense, especially for straight news stories.

3. Develop creative standing heads

Label heads are better used as standing heads. This refers to a headline that permanently appears in a newspaper or magazine. Such headlines introduce different sections of the publication such as Business, Sports, Art & Life, Entertainment, Metro, Crime, etc. Label heads are better used as the name of a recurring column or section of a newspaper or magazine. Even while using them as standing heads, you also need to make them a bit creative so that a reader would want to know what the stories in that section are saying. Instead of “Properties” you could have “Property Watch” as a standing head.

Be it feature story or straight news report, labels are dull and not very good as headlines. If you can avoid them just do so. Here are a few examples of how to avoid label heads either for feature story or straight news report. So instead of “Charity Collection for Flood Victims”, you can say “Help Flood Victims Get Back to Life”. Instead of “Pensioners’ tears and troubles”, you can still use this caption for feature story but add “Pensioners tears over government neglect”,  or better still, “Treat pensioners like human beings”, or “Is being a pensioner now a Curse?”. Make the headline interesting enough to arouse curiosity. Instead of “Face Masks and Coronavirus”, you can say “No Face Mask? You could be at risk for Coronavirus”.


Label heads are usually not regarded as proper headlines, going by the true definition of a headline. You have to ensure your headline does a good job of attracting readers’ attention and making them want to read your story. Otherwise just having a caption in the form of label head will be an exercise in futility and that way you could lose your readers right for the story title.


About Chinenye Nwabueze

Nwabueze is a writer with passion for cutting-edge news

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