Reading and Writing: An Interdisciplinary Journal 9: 85–106, 1997.
1997 Kluwer Academic Publishers. Printed in the Netherlands.
The effects of headlines and summaries on news comprehension
JOSE A. LE
onoma de Madrid, Spain
Abstract. In two experiments, we attempted to analyze the effects of newspaper article head-
lines and summaries on ﬁnal comprehension and recall. During the ﬁrst experiment, the
participants consisted of 117 high school students from the 9th grade, 68 from the 11th grade,
79 ﬁrst year Psychology students from the Autonoma University of Madrid and 66 ﬁfth year
Journalism students from the Complutense University of Madrid. The subjects were randomly
required to read a news report in one of the following experimental conditions: (1) the whole
news article (headline, summary and text), (2) the headline and text, (3) the summary and text,
and (4), the text only. The data from immediate and delayed free recall tasks were recorded.
The results showed that the structure of the news article did not inﬂuence the recall and that
there were differences among groups in the amount and quality of recall. The headline and
the summary modiﬁed by the use of macrostructural criteria constituted additional elements
introduced into the second experiment to provide a contrast with the original headline and
summary. The results showed that an improvement in article recall did occur with the modiﬁed
version in comparison with the original version. These two experiments have conﬁrmed that
the aims and criteria of journalists differ from those held by the authors of scientiﬁc texts and
question whether the reading strategies applied are the same in both cases.
Key words: Headline, Summary, News article comprehension and recall, News article
structure, Text comprehension, Young readers
The press is one of the most important forms of expression available. In the
last few years, emphasis has been put on the need to incorporate newspapers
into education as an instrument for transmitting knowledge and as a means
of establishing signiﬁcant links between pupils and society. Ultimately, it is
reasonable to maintain that one of the central aims of any educational system
is to produce citizens capable of understanding aspects of the world around
them. However, in spite of this laudable aim, hardly any fundamental links
have been set up between the cognitive investigation of text comprehension
and didactic experience with text books in schools. There has been only
limited interest in an area that we consider to be essential: the way that readers
understand and recall newspaper articles and how text variables inﬂuence
readers’ comprehension of the articles.
VICTORY: PIPS No.: 129191 LAWKAP
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