Write better headlines

04Sep07

As I have mentioned to you in class, if you cannot find appropriate articles for your publication, it is OK for you to just use dummy copy. BUT, what you will need to do is to write a headline and an introduction to explain to your readers what the article is about.

Even if you do find good articles you should have a go at re-writing the headlines to fit the “voice” of your publication. Who will your readers imagine is telling them the story? Are they old, young, someone like them, or someone older/wiser/smarter than them. That’s the “voice” you need to find. You might like to think of using slang if it’s for a younger audience for example.

Headlines are all about inducement. It’s about convincing your readers to read, not to skip past and say “I’ll read that later” – because they probably won’t.  Think about using the magic word YOU in your headlines so that your reader will think that it’s all about them (and it is of course!). Other things to think about are:

  • Creating curiosity
  • Promising answers to a question or solutions to a problem
  • Includiing a key benefit

Another tip is to read the headline out aloud. After you’ve read it out aloud, ask yourself “so what?”. If the answer is “so nothing” or “not much”, then it’s probably not going to work for the reader. Your headline needs to sell the story to the reader, so don’t make them boring. Some other tips:

1. Use Present Tense. To convey a feeling of immediacy. eg “Robber Flees” rather than “Robber Fled.”

2. Use Short Words.
To save space and allow your headline to be bigger. eg Panel or group instead committee. Look up synonyms (similar words) in a thesaurus.

3. Avoid Abbreviations. “Salesman Wins Trip To LV.” Readers may not catch on that “LV” is Las Vegas.

4. Avoid Exclamation Marks & Other Punctuation. Exclamation marks make your headlines look like they are trying to hard. If your headline is strong enough, you don’t need to fake emphasis. Full stops tell your readers to stop reading, so avoid them.

5. Tell the Story. A good headline tells readers what a story is about. It induces them to read the story. Readers should be able to pick up the main idea of an article by scanning only its headline.

6. Classify the Story. The size and style of a headline give readers some idea of the importance of the story. They show the relation of the story to others in the publication. The bigger the head and the more prominence it is given on a page, the more important the story. Make sure the biggest story, the “feature article”, is the one with the biggest headline.

With help from Newsletter Editor’s Handbook and Editing by Design.

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