How to analyze newspaper language

I’m writing this from the Greek island of Rhodes. One of the biggest pleasures I have on holiday is reading, I’ve brought a number of books with me but I also love the fact that I have time to read newspapers. I have always encouraged students to read newspaper articles as it is something that most people can find time to do in their busy lives, it also helps to consolidate your English. Newspapers are a great source of vocabulary, particularly phrasal verbs in the tabloid press. I am going to pass on some tips about newspaper language to help make them more accessible.

I thought I would start by explaining some of the terminology and features of newspaper language. In the UK we have tabloid and broadsheet newspapers.


  • For example, The Sun, The Mirror, The Express, The Mail
  • Smaller in size with shorter, less serious articles (typically about celebrities, crime and amusing stories)


  • For example, The Times, The Guardian, The Telegraph, The Independent, The Financial Times
  • Larger in size with more serious stories and longer, in depth articles

Headline Language

Short Words

Headlines often use very short words to make an impact. These are sometimes violent words e.g. Thugs battle. A thug is a violent person and a battle is a fight (it is a noun and a verb). This headline could also read Some thugs have been fighting, however this does not have the same impact as the short headline above.

Omitted Words

Headlines often don’t include verbs and articles, for example, More MP resignations over expenses row. If we put this into spoken English then the sentence would read More MPs have resigned over the row about expenses. This means that Members of Parliament have left their jobs because of the disagreements over what they should be able to claim on expenses.

Another example would be New flood alert. This means that there have been warnings that there could be more flooding.

Word Play

A key part of newspaper language is word play. Words with two different meanings in English can be used in an amusing and entertaining way. This is called a pun. For example, Short-staffed? That’s fine by Mr. Sarkozy. This headline plays with the word short. Short-staffed means that there are not enough staff to do the job. However, this article refers to the fact that during a visit to a factory all the staff he was introduced to were short because he is only 1.7m!

Another example would be Police found drunk in street. This headline plays with the word drunk.
One meaning is that the Police were found drunk in the street. The second meaning is that the Police found a drunk man in the street.

Noun Strings

It is also common to have a row of nouns in a headline. For example, Prime Minister’s traffic headache. This means that the Prime Minister has had some sort of problem with traffic.

Another example would be Teenage pregnancy increase. This means that there has been an increase in teenage pregnancy.


Alliteration is when a sound is repeated. It is often used in poetry as well as newspapers. Newspapers use it to attract the eye and make it more memorable. For example, Media makes Madonna Mad. The ‘m’ is repeated 4 times.


Headlines are often ambiguous making the reader look at the article. If we take the above headline the word ‘mad’ is ambiguous because it could mean insane or it could mean very angry. Also, the word drunk is ambiguous in the word play example above.

Verb Changes

Verbs are often changed in headlines. The simple tense is used instead of the continuous or perfect tense and the infinitive is used for the future. For example, Brown resigns. This is used instead of Brown has resigned.

Another example would be PM to visit USA. This is used instead of The Prime Minister’s going to visit the USA.

Understanding Headlines

In order to help you to understand the article you can ask yourself questions about the headline before you read.

Referencing and Relative Clauses

To avoid repetition newspapers use referencing a lot. This is using a pronoun or another noun instead of a name. Next time you read an article find the main subject and see how many different ways the writer refers to this. In the extract of the article below Madonna is also referred to as the singer and she. Relative clauses are used to give more information about the noun and also save space on the page. In the extract there are two relative clauses, the first tells us that Madonna is in America and the second that she is 50.

Madonna, who is currently in America, saw red when a photographer got too close. The singer, now 50, shouted abuse before she was led away.

I hope that this short insight into newspaper language will encourage you to read more articles from English newspapers. With most of them available online it is easy for you to find one that you enjoy. It is also interesting to read the same story from two different newspapers and compare the language and see which you find easier to understand.

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Posted: 16 August 2017

Categories: Communication skills

How To Analyze a Newspaper Article

Although newspaper readership has declined over the past several decades due to the emergence of television and the internet as dominant news formats, the news article is still prominent in today’s society. Whether read in print or online, the news article hasn’t changed its format of using text and photographs to create a story for hundreds of years.

The newspaper article, also sometimes called a newspaper story, takes the facts of a particular event or situation, and is molded by writers/editors to create a cohesive story that has a beginning and end. Just like other forms of media, newspaper articles are crafted with people who want to send a specific message into the world about a certain topic.

Although we would hope that the people bringing us the news would have no bias when doing so, this is simply not possible. Everyone has a bias about something, even if they don’t realize it. The best we can expect is to realize the bias exists and determine for ourselves whether we’ll accept or reject the story being told to us.

Below are some ways to analyze newspaper articles or stories.

Note: You can learn a lot more about this topic by buying our book, Practical Media Literacy: An essential guide to the critical thinking skills for our digital world. You would be supporting our work so that we can bring you more great resources.

1. Who wrote the article? Is the author connected in some way to the issue being discussed? Is the newspaper or news organization affiliated with people who want to project a particular point of view (like a company or a political party)? Does the author’s political affiliations conflict with the integrity of the story (surely it does). The author will take sides and project the values he/she believes in.

2. Why did the writer write the article? Is the purpose to inform the public? Is the purpose to ridicule someone or something? Maybe the purpose is to create fear? Or maybe the author wants to create controversy and sell more papers?
3. How might other people view the article? Are there stereotypes in the article about people of a different gender, race, social class, or religion? Would anyone be offended by what the author wrote about?

These are just a few things to think about. There are always more questions to ask about every topic. Below are links to some news organizations that might have current articles worth analyzing.

CNN (the original cable news network)

Fox News (a recognized conservative cable news outlet)

Yahoo! News (collects news from various sources and presents them together)

The Los Angeles Times (a local mass-market newspaper)

Want more ideas on how to analyze the news? Visit our forums and join the discussion.

You can learn a lot more about this topic by buying our book, Practical Media Literacy: An essential guide to the critical thinking skills for our digital world. You would be supporting our work so that we can bring you more great resources.