Headlines are an important, often overlooked part of article writing. They are what prompt readers to click the link, pick up the magazine or buy the paper. Blog posts, magazine articles and news articles have unique characteristics that will be addressed individually in follow-up posts, but there are a few guidelines that apply across the different styles and medium of the articles.
Interesting & Descriptive
Headlines should attract reader’s attention while giving a brief overview of the article’s content. Sounds easy right? Well, given the dearth of boring and vague headlines in media there’s got to be more to it. A headline should:
- Include action words. Tell readers to stop doing something, start doing something, give something, take something, learn something – spur them to action and translate that action to reading.
- Avoid jargon, abbreviations or profanity. Unless writing for a specialized niche publication in which it is assumed all the readers will have a working knowledge of your niche language or abbreviations/acronyms, don’t use it.
- Be creative. When not a news headline, which tend to be very clear cut and straight forward, interesting plays on words or catchy titles work in grabbing a reader’s attention.
- Use punctuation. Commas, for example can be used instead of the word “and” in headlines. Utilize limited headline space by eliminating word clutter.
- Avoid exclamation points *most of the time. There are some exceptions, but most articles with exclamation points either cry of desperation or sales pitchy-type pieces. If you use one, make it count!
Non-Inflammatory & Clear
“Down with Deb Ng!” I’ve used an exclamation point, unclear language and inflammatory wording to get to you to click the link for this article. It worked, you’re here and it’ll probably work on the search engines. The problem is, the article is not about Deb (a true sweetheart), it was truly only written to prove a point – there are inflammatory, wildly inaccurate headlines all over publications today. This causes a problem for writers, publications and their readers because when you pull a bait and switch it is not only annoying, you’re readers begin to distrust your work and your wolf cries begin fade into the background of the rest of the media noise.
The post title is also unclear. “Down with Deb Ng!” could mean I’m banding together with a group of wild freelancers to crush poor Deb under our boot or it could also mean that “Right on, I’m down (or supporting) Deb Ng!”
The other no-no of this headline is I’m clearly using the Google juice of Deb’s name to boost the blog hits. All around it’s a stinker of a headline and readers are not stupid, they can smell sensationalism a mile away and are usually annoyed by it.
Take the time and make your headlines a priority not an afterthought. The next few blog posts will cover the specifics of writing headlines for different types of articles including blog posts, magazine articles and news.
When do you write your headline, before or after you write the article?