Headlines are the most-read part of any publication. Take advantage of reader curiosity by writing headlines that lure readers into your text.
What headlines should do
- Attract readers’ attention.
- Summarize the content and convey its importance.
- Depict a mood.
- Help set the tone of a publication.
- Provide typographic relief.
- Read the text more than once before writing the headline.
- Draw headline ideas from information near top of the story. Build around key words, but don't parrot the opening sentences.
- Capitalize only the first letter of the first word and proper nouns. Example: Men require more sleep, study reveals. If your publication uses uppercase title style instead, be consistent.
- Make sure the headline has a subject and a predicate.
- Be as specific as possible.
- Use active verbs.
- Verify accuracy; be certain the headline doesn’t have a double meaning, such as Assault classes planned for a story about domestic violence awareness.
- Write in the present tense, even for events in the past.
- Use single quotes instead of double quotes in headlines.
- Use a comma for the word "and" if you need to save space.
What to avoid
- Avoid negatively stated headlines. Department cancels picnic is preferable to Department’s picnic not held.
- Avoid excessive adjectives and adverbs.
- Avoid repetitive language, such as University professor gets university’s top leadership award.
- Avoid slang.
- Avoid overused words and cliches.
- Avoid editorializing and using loaded terms.
- Avoid imperative verbs, aka the command form.
- Avoid abbreviations.
- Don’t split nouns and modifiers, verb forms or prepositional phrases over two lines.
- Don’t invite libel or contempt.
- Don’t pad a headline with extra words just to make it fit.
Tools to make feature headlines sparkle
- Twists on idioms or proverbs
- Balance and contrast
- Pairing the headline with photos and graphics