Field Notes: Words

While exploring The Washington Post’s February 15th and 16th issues, the actual number of words in the publication’s headlines varied. There were short ones and long ones, but in general, The WP is a big fan of longer headlines. The most words in one headline were 11. To me, The WP uses more sentence-like headlines than short phrases. Readers know exactly what an article is going to be about by reading the headlines in this publication.


In longer articles, decks are used along with the lengthy headlines. This can have its positives and negatives. With the long headlines and decks, it is easy to assess what the entire article is about. Readers can either continue reading the story, having an understanding of what they will be reading, or they can skip the story since they already have a summary of the article.
The tone of the headlines is very straightforward. There are few headlines in the main section that are meant to “tease” the reader. The headlines featured in the publication give the reader exactly what they want to know.
The WP sometimes uses headlines in the Metro or Style sections that are meant to draw the reader in. These headlines are often in the form of questions or direct, short statements.


Pull quotes in The WP mainly follow a certain style. The quotes are in bold and italics and the attributing author’s name is in bold beside their title, which is in regular type. Pull quotes are placed within the middle of the article, breaking up the story. They are surrounded by just enough white space to make them stand out from the article.


Pull quotes give a great sense of “voice” for the article. Most of them reaffirm what is in the article, or give a perspective from the article. The WP does a good job with giving great pull quotes. What is pulled is usually an essential part of the article.

In The WP, if the photograph accompanies a story, the captions and cutlines are usually one to two sentences. Standalone photos have longer cutlines. The captions describe what is going on in the photograph and nothing extra. In standalone pictures and graphics, the cutlines are mini-stories. Along with what is taking place in the photo, the cutlines tell a story. The picture and cutline is the actual article. Captions and cutlines are clear and easy to read. The language used is very simple and the reader is able to peruse photographs quickly. The style of cutlines and captions also makes them easily accessible to the reader. The smaller and bolder type differentiates them from the rest of the story.

(caption)

(cutline)

Bylines in The WP are very simple. The author’s name is featured after the word “By” before the actual article begins. This is the best approach because readers are not confused as to who wrote the article. The name is displayed very clearly. If there is no author, The WP still gives credit. For example, articles from the Associated Press are displayed under their name. There is no “by” before Associated Press, but it is still understood.


Credit lines under the photographs include the photographers name followed by the company or agency they work for.  This is also easy for the reader to distinguish where the photo comes from. The WP gives credit for all photographs it uses. It is clear where the photos are from.


The WP features refers at the bottom of the front page. Most of the refers are short and to the point. The WP gives enough information to get the reader to open the paper and read more. The refers are most often one sentence. The sentences give the main idea of the story and are usually very informative.


The promos for the different sections of the newspaper vary. They are featured mainly at the top of the page and include graphics. In the sports section, promos may have a small action picture of a player along with a one-sentence promo. Another promo features a quote from a women’s basketball coach. The WP tries to really catch the readers’ attention with the promos.


The names of sections in The WP are very standard. Readers will have no trouble finding any section they are looking for. Names like, ‘Politics & The Nation’ and ‘The World’ guide the reader through the main portion of the paper. The Metro, Style, Sports and Food sections are the broad names for these parts of the paper.


The overall word use in The WP is very direct and “newsy.” The main goal of this publication, as any other news publication, is to report the news. The WP does this very straightforward. Through its headlines, decks, captions and stories themselves, the news is in no way “hidden” or hard to find. The WP can seem “wordy”, but they are essentially giving the reader all they need to know. This causes less confusion and makes the reader feel that they are truly informed.

brianamurrell