How Do I Write A Compelling Headline?

Posted by JeffMores on October 18, 2012

Most people spend the majority of their time crafting the lead paragraph of a press release or news story. But consider for a moment the last time you looked at a magazine or online news site. Odds are, you scanned headlines to determine if it was worth your time to advance as far as the first line of the actual story.

An editor once told me eight of 10 people will read a headline, but just two of 10 will ever read the rest. It’s absolutely critical to invest time in headline writing. Often times, that’s where the battle for readers and media attention is won or lost.

That said, the best advice is to keep headlines simple and direct. There are instances when crafting a clever headline is both appropriate and effective, but the best headlines are driven by the use of good verbs, as illustrated here:

  • Eco-villages breathe new life into rural Senegal
  • Rapid-fire traders’ big fear: Themselves
  • Postal Service defaults on $5.6 billion payment

But be mindful not to sacrifice color in your attempt to craft a straight-forward headline. A lack of color, as demonstrated in the examples below, will quickly translate into little readership or interest in your story:

  • Seventh-graders attend fair, work on project
  • County court receives grant
  • Rosemount Village issues water study

These are a few questions to ask yourself when writing your next headline:

  • Is it short enough to hold your attention?
  • Does it clearly summarize the story?
  • Did you front-load your headline with key words?
  • Would it be understandable out of context?

Every element of compelling copy has just one purpose – to get the reader to the next sentence. Consider the headline your first sentence.

What do you find most challenging when writing headlines? What has worked for you? Tell us in the comments below or tweet us using the hashtag #mcgblog.