Tuesday, August 05, 2008
Is this any way to write a headline?
Allow me to pose a question: Do headlines that ask something a good idea?

Poynter thinks so. Sara Quinn, who is on the faculty there, says asking a question is a way to make a headline more engaging. My supervisors during my News & Observer days had other ideas. The directive there was to avoid question headlines — we should tell, not ask.

I asked award-winning headline writer Jim Thomsen what he thought of question headlines. He is a copy editor at The Kitsap Sun in Washington state and a board member at the American Copy Editors Society. (Thomsen also blogs.) Here is his response via Facebook:
As we look for new ways to invite readers to buy our newspapers and read our Web sites, I think we need to embrace new ways to bring them into the conversations that newspapers should be inspiring.

And what better way to start a conversation than to ask a question? It got me to realizing that most stories I read prompt more questions than they answer.

And that, I think is the nature of news: Every newspaper, every day, predominantly publishes stories about people considering something, investigating something, studying something, about to make a decision on something.

Rarely are stories so factually black-and-white as to anticipate and answer every question a reader would reasonably have.

Why not write headlines that reflect that?
Thomsen makes a compelling case. What do you think?
posted by Andy Bechtel at 11:41 AM | Permalink |


  • At 1:40 PM, Blogger Luke Morris

    It's OK in extreme moderation as long as it's fitting.

    TV stations overuse it in their chyrons. Check out this Daily Show clip about their use of it. http://www.thedailyshow.com/video/index.jhtml?videoId=117466&title=the-question-mark

  • At 6:58 AM, Blogger Caroline Cooper

    As a Belgian reader,I think that a title asking a question is a good idea.When I buy a newspaper or a magazine,I don't read all the articles.I pick the most interesting.My selection goes towards titles that question me the most.When I see a question, I wonder what's this ... I'm very curious in life (in general) and even more in the press.I think it's a good way to encourage people to read articles.I've tried once on the web and it has worked very well! But I think we don't have to forget the usual titles.

    PS: Sorry for my English

  • At 2:08 PM, Blogger obillo

    It's a good idea when the story discusses the question. It's a bad idea when--as particularly in TV news shows--the intents is to suggest 'you don't know and we're going to tell you.'

    I don't know of any blanket ban that is anything other than an order to the editor: Don't think! Obey! Take, for example, slavish devotion to the serial comma. If you go along with that you're not an editor and not a copy editor. You're a proof reader.