The Secret Power of Headlines

The most important part of the story an editor can write is the headline. The headline contain essential words that convey the meaning and subject of the story to the reader. The headline is usually abstract and short, only containing about 5-10 words. It is a complete thought and has a subject, verb and more than often an object. The goal of the headline is to grab the reader and further interest them in reading the story.

There are a few essential steps one must complete in order to write a headline. The most important rule one must know for writing a headline is that the words in a headline must represent what is in the story accurately. Accuracy counts about all else. To write a headline the writer must understand the story completely before writing the headline. In my personal experience, I always write the story first before I write the headline. Another key point is to base the headline on the main idea or meaning of the story, which should be in the lead of introduction. It is also frowned upon to repeat the exact wording that is in the story in the headline. The headline should be related to the story, not a part of it. Headline should not be ambiguous, insinuations or hold double meanings.

The words you choose to use in your headline also are very important. The words used should be specific, accurate, clear and concise. One will want to avoid unclear phrases and abbreviations. Key words should also not be repeated in the same headline. No headline should start with a verb, they need to be complete sentences or imply complete sentences. A linking verb can be implied instead of spelled out. The tense in which a verb is used can be important. If a story is about past or present events, on should use present tense verbs. Likewise, if a story is about future events, use the infinitive verb such as “to work” or “to leave”. Verbs such as is, are, was and were should not be included in a headline. Another key thing one should know is to use punctuation sparingly. Do not waste space with the conjunction “and.” Instead it is advised to use a comma in its place.

Web headlines are equally if not more important than a written headline in a paper or magazine. As with any news story, a strong headline is vital for a web story. Web headlines are often found in lists of links where the reader is not introduced to the actual story. If the headline does not sell the story and encourage the reader to click and read more, the reader is likely to navigate away from the story and move on to the next. Web headlines should be coherent for search engines favor coherent words. Headlines can be essential to search engine optimization, which draws traffic to your website.

Headlines, like poetry and songs, need to have a certain rhythm about them. They must be clear, concise and straight to the point but still say enough to keep the reader interested.


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