Monday, August 11, 2008

Finding Key Words For Headlines

Finding key words for headlines

By Frederick Vultee • University of Missouri •

After “semester upon semester of saying ‘The news isn't in the relative clause. The news isn't in the relative clause,’” Frederick Vultee devised this approach for helping his students find key words for headlines.


How to find key words for a headline

Find the first independent clause in the story and list the simple subject, simple predicate and direct object. In other words:

WHO _______________
did WHAT _______________
to WHOM ________________ ?

WHERE was it done? ______________________ ?

Now look for dependent clauses and participial phrases.

A participial phrase might tell you WHY
you care about the verb: _________________________________________

(A car bomb exploded in Beirut today, killing a former prime minister.)

A relative clause often tells WHY
you care about the subject or object: _______________________________

(The man who performed the world’s first heart transplant died today.)

REMEMBER: If your headline’s verb comes from a relative clause, you have the wrong headline:

Man performs heart transplant
– vs. –
Heart transplant pioneer dies

Which noun is more important to your story:

SUBJECT (think active voice)
OBJECT (think passive voice) ?

Can you omit any grammatical steps?

Smith files a lawsuit against Jones
subj verb direct object indirect object

Smith sues Jones
subj verb direct object

A man who was charged in last week’s robbery
subj relative clause prepositional phrase

A suspect in last week’s robbery
subj prepositional phrase

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