|See also:||Disclaimer, Warnings, Author's Note, Beta, Labels, Tags|
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Headers are often used at the top of a fanfic or a post announcing other fanworks to convey important information to the reader/viewer . There are many variants of what is included in the header and how it's formatted, but commonly at least some of the following are included:
- Word Count (for fic)
- Media used (for fanart)
- Format (for example: drabble, short story, WIP)
- Type: Standalone, prequel to ___, sequel to ___ , series of stories it belongs to:
- Archive (either yes/no, to say whether the author gives permission for the story to be archived, or to indicate what archive it will appear in)
- Spoilers/Timeline -- when a story is set; what episodes you should have already seen to enjoy the work.
- Author's Notes
- Thanks to the Betas
The use of headers varies across fandoms and communities. Most individual LJ communities have a template header that posters are supposed to use. Some usenet-based fandoms had distinctive headers, or controlled lists of possible answers for categories like Ratings or Pairings (See X-Files.)
The History of Labeling Fanworks
The use of headers for fanworks is a fairly recent activity.
While they didn't use the term "age statement," some early media print zines practiced the concept. They included statements which alerted fans to "adult concepts," for text rather than images, and were for het content. Most early media print zines used no labeling at all. It was the 1977 The SekWester*Con Porn Debate that began the rise of the age statement.
Later, zines with slash material began to alert potential readers to its content. A few zines with both slash and gen did not specify each story's genre, but instead had a key in the back of the zine for those who were interested in such information.
Age statements serve two main purposes. First, they act as insurance for the publisher. In the fabled case of a litigious parent discovering her minor child reading a zine she feels to be pornographic, the existence of that signed age statement offers a first line of defense. Of course 'literary worth' is the main defense against charges of being pornographic, and I'm sure all fan publishers feel what they are printing has value or they would have rejected it to begin with, but realistically, how many would look forward to having to prove that point in court? Which means that for this purpose whether to require an age statement depends on how fearful the publisher is and how she feels about her zine. Just how 'sexy' or 'likely to arouse prurient interests' or "obscene" (depending on one's attitude towards erotica) does she think it is? Given that homophobia is as common as it is, a parent is more likely to be upset by a line such … Kirk's penis being caressed if the partner is Spock rather than Uhura, so probably for the protection of the publisher the 'explicit-ness threshold' should be lower for K/S zines. to serve as a warning flag to prospective buyers, and this is where I feel today's practice is inadequate. If this purchase will be my first exposure to Publisher A's zines, how can I know if her standards mesh with mine? The fact that she's asking for an age statement implies that she thinks some people may be offended by some of the contents, but what yardstick is she applying—and to what type of content? Is the only problem some "blue" language? Nude illustrations? Are there explicit sex scenes? Is there detailed, gory violence? The same person's taste for, and ability to stomach, differing aspects of "adultness" can vary greatly. For example, "language" doesn't bother me and I consider most art and "sex scenes" to be as big a plus as almonds on a Hershey bar, but not those involving sadistically inflicted pain or the rape of a child, and prolonged descriptions of violence or suffering of any type repulses or depresses me. There is no way the publisher can be expected to know my tastes in that detail. But I do. And if she would only offer enough useful information in her flyer her public would be happy to make their own informed decisions. 
While some fans appreciated knowing in advance what they were getting in for, other fans felt increased labeling regarding content and pairing caused fans to become less adventurous in their fanwork consumption; it was all to easy to skip a story or vid and not take a chance that it may be appealing despite its content.
For more on this topic, see Warnings.
Headers as Part of a Conversation
In the mid-1990s to the early 2000s, headers were sometimes created not just for factual information such as story length and title, but also as conversation and social detail. Many headers of fiction posted to Usenet groups included bits of information about personal life details, shout-outs to other fans, and references to current events -- fannish and otherwise. In 2012, a fan wrote:
Introduction formats were different, and because blogging as such didn't exist then, they were a lot more sociable; fanfic was a way to talk with people, and it's amazing how much personal information you can read in the headers. 
- Fanfiction Header Builder - a tool made to assist in creating nicely-formatted story headers. (created by angstslashhope)
- Fic Headers - useful or not? by wizefics
- from Treklink #14
- Sam Starbuck at I've been reading back in the old Gossamer X-Files fanfic...