Writing Captions

Learn to write journalistic captions with as much detail as possible using ABCDQ.


A. Action – Make it present tense. Describe what is happening in the photo. Active verbs matter here. Readers must be able to identify the photo based on the action.

B. Basic information – Give the essential information. Who is in the photo, what grade are they in, where are they and when is this happening? This can be part of the first or second sentence.

C. Complementary information – Give a little extra. Share something about the photo the reader would not otherwise know. This is the second or third sentence.

DQ. Direct quote – Include a meaningful, descriptive quote. This is the third sentence, unless you have a long storytelling caption, then it’s the fourth sentence.


An ABCDQ caption is a mini story. Not every caption has to be ABCDQ. Simple headshots get a name and grade. Other situations may call for a shorter version. Mix it up!

Live by these caption rules

  • Because the action in the photo never ages, write the action sentence in present tense. Other sentences are in past tense because the descriptors relate to a moment in the past.
  • Don’t state the obvious.
  • Consider the action that took place before the shutter clicked and the following reactions. Include valuable information.
  • Do not use joke captions. They create ethical and legal problems.
  • Don’t editorialize. Allow the action and the background info to tell a complete, factual story. Include the direct quote to help.
  • Set and follow caption standards. If you identify students by grade level, do so consistently. The choice to use lead-ins is a section-wide decision.
  • Make the introductory phrase visually distinct with bold face, color or all caps.