If you're learning about the craft of newspaper writing in school, then you might think you're home free when it comes time to write the title of a piece. But there's more to headline writing than meets the eye. By all means, strive to write catchy headlines, but make sure you know the basics of effective headline writing first.
Master the Basics
Headlines must accurately and succinctly communicate the substance of the article -- and in the clearest terms possible. There is no room for double meanings or confusion, or worse, offensive content. Headlines also must perform the powerhouse function of grabbing readers' attention. Short, lively verbs are the lifeblood of headlines, especially if you're determined to write a catchy one.
Catch On to Some Headline Tips
No one is a born headline writer; it's a learned art that takes lots of practice. So begin the process by choosing exactly the right verb -- you probably will have room for only one -- that is as catchy as it is pithy. Then look for an element of humor in the article, which opens up the opportunity for irony, a pun or a play on words. Do so only when appropriate, however, and never at the expense of accuracy or clarity. Cliches are generally frowned on in newspaper writing, but it's fun to exercise some creative license by taking a well-worn cliché and giving it a new, unexpected ending. In the same vein, look for ways to take a well-known saying or advertising slogan and infuse it with a new twist. Tweak the first draft of the headlines you write and strive to make them better, deleting “deadwood” and clutter while sharpening and enlivening each and every word. With time and practice, you will improve -- as long as you never sacrifice accuracy for catchiness.
- Columbia University: Department of Journalism and Mass Communication: Headlines
- The University of Kansas: Headlines: Making an Impact -- Accurately
- PR News Online: 7 Tips for Writing Headlines That Pop in a Journalist’s Inbox
- Associated Press Guide to News Writing; Rene J. Cappon; 1991.
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