Headlines, lists, links

Reading: Writing for the Mass Media, chapter 5, 7, 10

Headlines and summaries

Headlines are the most important words that you will write for a web site. A headline is an abstracted sentence — a complete thought — that tells a reader what an article is about and give the reader some specific information that comes from that article. Headlines are just a few words, normally between five and 10. You read headlines all the time. Pay attention to what you are reading. Analyze what you read.

— Headlines are also the hardest words to write in journalism

— Headlines fail for two reasons: they’re too vague, and they’re too safe.

— Headline necessities

  • subject and verb
  • verbs should be present tense
  • they should be clear – “pearls of clarity,” according to Jakob Nielsen
  • accurate
  • attribute all opinions


A summary works in conjunction with the headline to give the reader more information about the article. A summary is not the lead paragraph. It has a broader purpose than a lead paragraph. The summary covers the entire story, not just the most important information. Summaries are usually no more than 50 words — usually less.

The summary (or introduction) is a one- or two-sentence paragraph that, working in conjunction with the headline, gives the reader a general idea of what the story is about. The summary is the second layer of information (the headline being the first) that the reader receives about a story and is written to help readers decide if they want to click on the link to the story page.

Summaries are not lead paragraphs. They have a broader function than that. They are meant to present an overall description of the story.

Summaries often appear on the home page or section front of a web site.

There are three types of summaries:

* Informative
* Analytical
* Provocative

You can read more about writing summaries in this article on JPROF.


Lead paragraph

Review the lecture notes from the inverted pyramid structure; most important information; who, what, when, where


Linking is the central action of the web. It is one of the most powerful tools that a web journalist has. Read The art of linking here on JPROF.

— Good links provide a service to the reader and make reading an article a richer experience.

— Two types of links: in-line and related links or link lists

— In-line links are words in the text of an article that are made into links. The art in doing this is to explain or infer in the text what the reader will get when he or she clicks on the link.

— Link lists occur outside the narrative of the article and should be accompanied by a brief description of the web site or web page that the reader will see from that link.

— Learn the HTML tags for creating links manually: MOST IMPORTANT

— Concept of link journalism — part of the job of the journalist is to find the best links available on whatever topic is being reported and to present those to the reader along with the original information that the reporter finds.


The list is one of the most important aspects of writing for the web that the writer must master. A well-formed list not only adds visual variety to the writing but aids in comprehension. The list invited the reader to scan the text, but it can offer the visual cues to arrest the eye.

Lists do not form themselves. The writer must make them happen. Here are some considerations and guidelines:

  • Appropriateness and significance. Lists are fairly easy to form, but they must be appropriate to the subject matter and significant to the subject. They must help introduce new information and concepts to the reader that are due some consideration on the part of the reader.
  • Number of items. A list must contain at least two items. In web journalism, the best lists are three to five items, but there is no hard rule about the number of items in a list.
  • Use of boldface. A list is best used when one or two of the most important words can be boldfaced. Doing this aids the reader in finding the words with the most informational value in the list. But boldfacing should be used sparingly. If you boldface an entire item in a list, you dilute the effect of the bold type.
  • Numbered and unnumbered lists. Two of the most common types of lists in HTML are the numbered and the unnumbered list. The numbered list uses numbers to introduce each item in the list. Use the numbered list when the numbers are important either for sequence or importance. When numbers are not important to the list, use the bulleted, or unnumbered, list. Numbers can be distracting if they do not carry any informational weight.
  • Parallelism. Ideally, lists should be constructed so that they are parallel. That has two meanings. One, grammar constructions of all items of the list should be the same. If one is a complete sentence, all of them should be. If one is a fragment beginning with a participle, all should be.The second meaning of parallelism is that the items in a list should be of the same type or alike in a discernible way. Another way of saying this that no one item in a list should seem out of place with the other items.

Parallelism is an important tool of the writer — one that should be understood thoroughly so it can be put to good use. The concept goes beyond the explanation presented here. To learn more about parallelism, start here at the Online Writing Lab at Purdue University.

Additional reading

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