How to Write Yearbook Headlines

Not only is it a part of the dominant element of your spread’s hierarchy, but headlines also help organize the yearbook by providing a visual cue and structure for the content. An effective headline can help a reader quickly understand the content of a page and decide if they want to read more. (They should!) When writing headlines for your yearbook, follow these five guidelines. 

1. Set the Tone

The tone of your headlines should match the tone of the yearbook, whether it is lighthearted, serious, or something in between.

Many advisers begin the theme development process with an idiom dictionary nearby to create a lexicon for the year. By incorporating keywords and phrases from the yearbook theme into the headlines, designers create a consistent and cohesive story, which ultimately strengthens your theme. 

Take a look at this example: with the Treering Theme Stay Gold in mind, the editorial staff looked at all the phrases using gold and built out a list. They then assigned potentials to spreads. Notice how gold is frequently used, as are synonyms such as shine and glitter.

Time spent during theme development to brainstorm headlines keeps your book unified.

Considerations for Theme Copy in Yearbook Headlines 

  • Resist the urge to make every headline the same. In a book titled “Then & Now,” you can only have so many headlines with an ampersand. (Trust me, it was a first-year yearbook fail.)
  • Use spin-offs to highlight the main concepts of the theme. Your headlines and subheadlines exist to bring the yearbook theme to life and make it an integral part of each story and spread.

2. Maximize Your Space

Focus your yearbook headlines and limit them to no more than a few words which accurately reflect the content of the story they introduce.

Advisers, here are some exercises that can help students produce stronger headlines:

Headline Critique

Have students work in groups to critique headlines written by their peers. Collaboratively, students learn to identify strong and weak yearbook headlines and develop a critical eye for headline writing.

News Scavenger Hunt

Collect headlines from various sources (some ideas are below in section five) and analyze them for clarity, conciseness, and relevance to the content. This exercise can help students understand the importance of writing headlines that accurately reflect the content and grab the reader’s attention.

Headline Revision

To help students learn to refine their headline-writing skills and make their headlines more effective, have students write several headlines for a given story or event and then revise them to make them more concise, clear, and attention-grabbing. 

3. Follow AP Style guidelines:

When it comes to all things style, the Associated Press Stylebook sets the rules for copy, abbreviations, and formatting.

  • Capitalization: Capitalize the first word and all subsequent important words in the headline, including prepositions and conjunctions of four letters or more.
  • Active voice: Use active voice in your headlines, as it makes them more dynamic and engaging.
  • Punctuation: Limit the use of punctuation in headlines, typically using only a single exclamation point or a question mark, if necessary. (Personal anecdote: My undergrad journalism professor told me I get three exclamation points in my career, and to use them wisely.) 
  • Conciseness: Keep headlines concise and to the point, typically no more than a few words.
  • Spelling and grammar: Make sure to check the spelling and grammar of each headline to ensure that it is error-free and professional-looking.

4. Wordplay Works

Make your English department swoon with literary techniques such as puns or alliteration if appropriate.

While “Football” is a straightforward and accurate way to describe the subject matter, using it as a headline for a story about the football team in a yearbook may not be the most engaging option. To make the headline stand out and capture the reader’s attention, it’s often better to use wordplay or a more descriptive phrase that goes beyond just the basic name of the subject.

For example, instead of simply using “Football” as the headline, you could use an alliteration that showcases your mascot such as “Lions on the Line” or “Touchdown Titans.” 

You could even use something from the story copy to tie the spread together: below this cheer spread’s feature story is about the relationship between cheer flyers and bases.

Cheer yearbook spread using the headline "All About That Base" to show the importance of the athletes at the bottom of the stunts who keep everyone safe.
There is plenty of clever copy on this spread, including the Pink Panthers lede for the breast cancer awareness event the team help.

5. Keep Headlines Timely

Consider the current events and trends that are relevant to the yearbook and include them in your headlines. From Homecoming (Game of Thrones) to personality profiles of faculty (How I Met Your Teacher), you can get creative in the Heartland (any location on campus, such as the quad, where the whole school gathers). See what we did there?

Find inspiration by looking at

  • News websites and magazines
  • Social media platforms
  • Advertisements
  • Books and novels
  • Popular songs, TV shows, and movie titles
  • Quotes and (appropriate) jokes
  • Previous yearbooks

Following these tips and finding your headline groove will strengthen your yearbook theme and tell the story of your year. For additional writing tips, check out these blogs:

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