September 25, 2023: What Makes A Good Headline?
Writing a headline should be easy, right? It's just a few words that summarize a story so people can decide whether they want to read more. How hard can it be?
Actually, a good headline can be just as challenging as writing a full article, if not more so. The best headlines need to convey a lot of information in a small space, and they have to do so while being intriguing and (if possible) exciting. You've probably had practice writing headlines if you've ever worked for a print or digital publication, but if you haven't, here are some tips:
Seek to summarize: Whether a news story is simple or complicated, your job as a headline writer is to tell people what's going on in the fewest words possible. For example, say you stumble across a juicy scoop: A naval officer working for a project that maps the sea floor stumbles upon a man-made structure at the bottom of the ocean. The building is clearly new and is covered in strange symbols; a consultant explains that these are meant to trap and hold an evil entity of great power. After conducting some research, the naval officer discovers that a billionaire who dabbles in the arcane has been trying to rid the world of evil the only way they know how. What's the headline? NAVY CLAIMS BILLIONAIRE HAS SATAN
Avoid confusion: Brevity is the soul of wit, and simplicity is the heart of a headline. The goal with any headline is to make sure that people will understand the gist of your story, even if they only have time to glance at your paper as they're walking by. Got a story about lycanthropic espionage agents that were caught spreading false apocalyptic predictions in star charts because they wanted to incite panic? Make it easy for commuters to stay informed with this headline: WEREWOLF SPIES ADMIT ASTROLOGY TERROR SCANDAL
Prioritize important details: While MAN BITES DOG is often used as an example of an interesting headline, it actually leaves a bit to be desired. Who is the man? Why did he bite the dog? People are always intrigued by famous names and active words, so be sure to include them. For example: A story about a person attempting to steal something isn't very intriguing. However, what if they were a member of a famous American political dynasty? What if the object they were trying to obtain was based on top secret technology? Suddenly, GOVERNMENT THWARTS ATTEMPTED THEFT becomes KENNEDY TRIES TO SNATCH TIME WEAPON.
-- Katie Duffy
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