Writing the Perfect Cutline

Peg Elwell
Columbia High School
Columbia Station, Ohio

Title: Writing the Perfect Cutline


To improve quality of cutlines in the newspaper


  • To determine what information should be included in a cutline
  • To develop a rubric for evaluating cutlines


  • News articles that include photo and cutline (enough for each person in the class)
  • 3×5 cards
  • 4×6 cards
  • plain white paper


  • Scan popular magazines and recent newspapers for articles with photos of well-known people.
  • Tape or paste article to 8½ x 11 sheet of paper.
  • Paste photo to 4 x 6 card and cutline to 3×5 card.
  • Give each set a number.
  • These can be laminated and used for several years.


  • Pass one numbered photo to each student.
  • Instruct them to generate questions they would want answers to about the photo. They should be able to identify the person, so this would be the “who.”
  • When students have developed several questions, pass out the corresponding news stories.
  • Using the story to answer their questions, students are to write cutlines for the photos. As they complete their cutline, pass out the actual cutline from the publication. Have students compare their version to the actual one.
  • Challenge them to think critically about what is necessary for a good cutline. On the board or overhead, write student criteria for cutlines.
  • The following suggestions from the Associated Press Managing Editors can be used as a guide. Students may come up with some that are even better.
    • Is it complete? ( Is there anything unusual in the picture that is not explained in the cutline?)
    • Does it identify?
    • Does it tell when and where?
    • Is it easy to read? (Sentences should be short, direct and in proper sequence?
    • Does it have names right? (spelling and order?)
    • Is it specific? (Does it give information on specific points of interest in the picture of does it merely echo the obvious?)
    • Does it have adjectives? (The reader should be able to determine “excitement” or “dismay” from the picture. Remove adjectives.)


  • Pass out copies of articles and photos from previous issues of your school newspaper, with cutlines blacked out.
  • Students are to write cutlines using the criteria developed in the lesson.