Betteridge’s Law, or: Are Questions in Headlines a Good Idea?

Pick up any tabloid news­pa­per today and take note of how many art­icle head­lines are phrased as a ques­tion. I under­stand that these head­lines are an attempt to piqué our interest (or the res­ult of lazy copy editors/writers), but are they a good idea? What is the end res­ult of using a ques­tion as a head­line or art­icle title?

Now we know, thanks to Betteridge’s Law of Head­lines:

Any head­line which ends in a ques­tion mark can be answered by the word ‘no’.

Named for Ian Bet­ter­idge, this simple max­im was first expli­citly found in journ­al­ist Andrew Marr’s 2004 book, My Trade. This is why the law tends to be “uni­ver­sally true”:

Because of a simple prin­ciple of head­line writ­ing: if a story has enough sources to have a high chance of accur­acy, a head­line will be assert­ive (e.g. “Microsoft to release OS update on Fri­day”). If sources are weak, or only a single source is found, head­line writers will hedge their bets by pos­ing the head­line as a ques­tion (e.g. “Will Microsoft release an OS update on Fri­day?”).