How to write headlines that make headlines

Today we have a guest post contributed by Katie Wilson, who writes about accreditation for online universities. She welcomes your feedback at KatieWilson06 at Thanks, Katie!

One thing I’ve learned in all my years as a writer is that you either have the flair for the job or you don’t; there are no in-between measures when it comes to weaving magic with words alone.

There are different kinds of writers – some are word perfect at both their grammar and their style, others have a way with words and analogies but are not too concerned with the nitty-gritty of grammar, and yet others are masters of the short and catchy texts – they’re able to write the perfect headlines and great captions for pictures.

The art of writing headlines differs according to the kind of articles you’re writing and the audience you’re writing for.

Earlier, when there were only newspapers to worry about, most headlines focused on news items, so they were pretty straightforward. All they had to do was be concise and encapsulate the news item in a few words. Catchy headlines were sought after for feature stories and pictures, one-liners that were witty, used double meanings, a clever play on words, and which enticed the reader to go through the article. A write-up about exercise could have the headline “Fighting Fat For Fitness”, an alliteration on the letter F adding to the appeal factor here.

So if you’re writing for a newspaper, that’s what you need to be able to do when you write headlines – play it straight and to the point when it’s a news item and go all out with your creativity when it’s a feature item.

Today, the focus is more on blogs and web copy where the emphasis is on search engine optimization, links, and rankings on Google and company. So good headlines need to have one or more of the following characteristics:

  • The keywords that are important to your article
  • A “How-To” list that offers advice
  • A teaser headline that ends with a question, like “What’s so Great about the new iPod?”
  • A “Reasons-Why” list that tells you why you must do this and that
  • A list in general, because lists seem to be doing really well in the rankings on sites like Digg

You don’t have to come up with a headline before you begin the article; in fact, instead of wasting time thinking of a line that would make great copy, start putting down the words in your head and you’ll feel a suitable headline popping in at an opportune moment.

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