Cutline Writing - 8 Winning Tips

03 August 2011
In Teaching by Principles, Brown compared writing to swimming. Not every human being can swim. Similarly, if you want to learn how to write, you've got to study, practice and hone the skill. 

big cats in a boxYou have got to do things the right way, because perfection is not achieved by constant practice alone but by correct and constant practice.

Next to creating a humorous feature story, crafting a good cutline is one of the most difficult tasks for a serious journalist. 

It is true that people publish photos everyday. A very small percentage of the images comes with effective cutlines and captions.

We already covered how you can write good photo captions last week. This time, we'll move to cutline writing. You'll need 8 tips to do the job right. Are you ready to think inside the box?

  1. Mind the facts. Fact-check and spell-check your cutline. Any information you include must reflect the details published in the main story. Be careful about gender references, civil status and spelling of names. You want to be as accurate and as consistent as possible.

  2. If the photo is an accompanying artwork, be a tease. Don't reveal all pertinent information in one blow. Remember that your main purpose is to hook the audience to read the full-length story. Visualize the image and the cutline as the appetizer. You want readers to proceed to the main course.

  3. If the image is wild art, make conciseness your primary objective. Wild artworks are stand-alone images. They do not come with a full-length story. As such, it is essential that your cutline be as complete as possible. 

  4. Do not repeat the headline. Oftentimes, a single line or a short phrase is enough to help readers make the connection between the image and the main story. Don't risk writing a sloppy cutline for the sake of just having a cutline.

  5. Edit out your opinion. Traditional mass communication is very strict about objectivity, so you might want to omit adjectives, interpretations and fictional allusions. Include only the facts. It's not surprising that the journalistic cutline reads a lot like straight news.

  6. As with the case of writing good photo captions, do not mention the obvious. This will waste space and make your readers feel dumb. "As shown in the photo" "as mentioned" and "shown here" are common examples of trite wording, which is best avoided.

  7. Add context. Shots of emotional events and facial expression tell a number of stories. It is wise to mention a related detail which led to the emotional outburst. For instance, if you publish an image of crying women, talk about the catastrophe in the cutline to help explain what the picture does not tell. 

  8. Keep it concise. You don't have to use more than two statements. Express the first in present tense, and the second one in past tense. Experts also suggest that you establish the timeline so as not to confuse the readers. 

How do you like the list? For an extra treat and more insights to cutline writing, please do read Professor Malcolm Gibson's site Making Words Work.* 
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