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Advice Unlimited

Advice Unlimited

Thursday, October 24, 2013

10 Steps to a Great Headline

Creating headlines is a difficult skill that can be a struggle for many writers. Headlines are extremely important whether you are writing for online content such as blogs, social media, or webpages or you are writing articles and thought leadership pieces as a journalist or public relations professional. Being able to connect with your target audience in a quick and concise manner is one of the most valuable writing skills in today’s society of social media and online content writing.

Even though the content of an article may be extremely well written, only a small portion of people will read that article. Headlines pull people in. A good headline will catch the eye and help the reader engage. The following tips can help you create a strong headline:
Be Accurate
Although it is basic, many people make the mistake of creating misleading headlines. It is crucial not to mislead the reader about the content of the story. Be fun, be catchy – but ALWAYS be accurate.
Here are some extreme cases of misleading headlines.

Misleading Headlines
Accurate Headlines

Kids Make Nutritious Snacks

Nutritious Snacks Created by Kids

Two Soviet Ships Collide, One Dies

Two Soviet Ships Collide, One Person Dies

Hershey Bars Protest

Hershey Staff Protest

Squad Helps Dog Bite Victim

Squad Helps A Dog Bite Victim

Marry Your Headline with Your Subject
Let the reader know what the article is about quickly and in a focused manner. Being direct will help the reader know what to expect instantly. Being straightforward will lead the reader to the body of the article. Obscure headlines can turn away a reader as quickly as a direct one can draw them in. Having good flow in an article goes beyond the body; make the headline flow into the content itself.
Add Spice with Strong Adjectives
Adjectives really make a headline stand out. An expanded use of adjectives will draw readers into the article. Headline writing is about separating from the pack; finding unique strong language helps you differentiate your story from others. Think of strong adjectives as bright colors on a page -- the brighter the colors, the more likely a person is to see that color.
Spark the Imagination
Make the reader want to know more. Sparking interest is a key in headline writing. Ever wonder why “How to” articles are so common? They always seem to spark interest right away – largely because they promise to solve a problem for the reader. The reader feels connected to the story immediately.
On The Boston Globe’s website, sparking the reader’s interest is a regular occurrence. Check out some of the stories on their page for some great examples of interesting headlines.
Cut the Fat
Creating a headline that can be read quickly is extremely important. Your headline should be descriptive enough to give your audience an idea of what the article entails, yet short enough to ensure you don’t lose their attention before they even get to the first graph.
Making the headline short is especially helpful when writing online. If there is a short headline, it can not only be used for the site, but it can be blasted on social media exactly how it appears.
Use Active Voice over Passive Voice
Headlines should always have an active voice. Having an active voice makes the author sound more definitive, while a passive voice can make the author seem unsure of the topic. This is important, as it can affect the credibility of the writer.
CNN really has some great active voice headlines.
Use the Spark Notes Version
Headlines should almost tell the story -- they should almost sum up the article for the reader. Clearly let the reader know what is coming. The goal is to lead the reader into the context of the article; this will result in a larger number of reads.
Use Superlatives
Superlatives will help to draw an audience into the story. This is especially effective when writing for blogs or web articles. For example, at the blog Upworthy, the team is tasked with finding superlative phrases for story headlines. This is credited with helping them draw in millions of readers to their stories. According to the New York Times, the headlines that they produced created so much buzz that the site had 2.5 million new viewers in its third month of running.
Name Dropping Works
Having a name in the headline can be extremely helpful. It is especially effective if the client you are writing about has a strong brand. People want to know about brands they care about. Using a recognizable name connects the story to the reader quickly, increasing readership interest.
News sites like The Washington Post name drop a lot in their headlines. Political subjects are a great place to name drop in a headline.
Most Importantly: Catch the Reader’s Attention
The number one goal of a headline is to catch the attention of the reader. It’s worthwhile to spend a bit more time on the headline for any story you write, to ensure it not only describes the article, but entices the reader. Hopefully these tips will help you make the story pop off the page. It is not an easy task, but this is a skill worth learning, to help you engage your audience and deliver your message.

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