What Is a Dek or Subhed in Journalism?

How to Write ta Good Subheading

Focused on the task at hand
Getty Images/Yuri_Arcurs

Dek is a journalism term for the summary that appears below the headline of a story and is usually in smaller font (but in a larger point font than the main body). Dek, like other slang terms editors and copy editors use when they are referring to stories they are working on, is a word you might hear spoken or written on a story, during the editing process, but you would not see it appear in a proper sentence.

In journalism jargon the terms subhed or dek may be used interchangeably, but it is also referred to as a subhead, subheading, slug, subtitle or deck.

What Makes It a Dek?

The short, catchy summary of an article that accompanied a headline is referred to as a dek in old newspaper lingo. In traditional print publications, it does not matter if the dek is super short, just a phrase, a sentence, a blurb or a even a full paragraph, as long as it helps readers get an idea of the story and make a decision about whether they should continue on to read the full article.

The dek informs the reader about the topic at hand, and some articles (such as long or complex ones) may even have more than one dek to help encapsulate the entire piece.

How Do You Write One?

Before Google, online news, or search engine optimization, traditional print publications like newspapers and magazines required deks that were quite substantive.

Headlines were catchy and written to entertain while subheads were expected to carry the weight of explaining what the story was actually about.

Nowadays due to the way articles and news are found online due to search engine rankings, headlines play a large role in how a dek is written. To ensure that a search engine can pick up and identify articles based on the content in the whole article, it's important that the headline itself is both optimized and to the point.

No longer are headlines just cute or entertaining, instead they get to the point and explain what the article is about without waiting just for the dek to do the explaining.

For online publishing, the dek would most likely be placed in the reserved "short article summary" area of the website or in the meta description box that accompanies the whole article, to briefly sum up what the article is about.

To write a well formed dek or meta description, consider the following steps:

  • Summarize but don't give away the full story
  • Consider and incorporate SEO, this includes being mindful of the character limits and keyword inclusion
  • Let the reader know the type of story she is about to see, i.e. a Q&A, list, review, etc.
  • Leave out any acronyms or abbreviations
  • Be brief and to the point
  • Use verbs and the article's voice or tone
  • Provide just enough detail and information to get readers to move onto reading the article itself

With some practice and by keeping the considerations above in mind, you will be well on your way to writing the perfect dek copy for your next article.

Continue Reading...