Run for the hills! We are being invaded by monstrous sea creatures! All is lost! This is an actual headline from the Associated Press on 7/25/2007, which describes the increased sightings of seven foot squid off the coast of California. Yet, if you take the headline literally, Armageddon has come. This is the power of a provocative headline.
The editor at the Associated Press decided to spice up this dull fishing story and pique the interest of the readership. Nothing works better than a sensational headline. It got my attention, but I felt that the headline misled or teased me too much.
When writing press releases or copy for brochures, good headlines are essential. The purpose of the headline is first to get the attention of the reader by summarizing the copy or content below it. The headline must be interesting, but not mislead the reader.
Here are some recommendations for writing better headlines:
– Use strong verbs like “NY Yankees Spank the Boston Red Sox”.
– Uses numbers such as “8.0 Earthquake Hits LA”.
– More punctuation is better such commas and semi-colons: “Bush, Cheney Agree: Stay in Iraq”.
– Beware of double meanings like “Sharks Attack LA”; is this a hockey or a fish story?
– Don’t exaggerate or lie or mislead; it will just irritate the reader. “Jumbo Squid Invade California” seems a bit overdone to me. There are no jumbo squid in my driveway today (as of yet).
– Don’t use a silly headline unless it is a silly story. “Hearts Ache for Help” is an inappropriate headline when the story is about heart disease.
– Don’t start a headline with a verb; instead say who or what. For example, “Slaughtered in the Thousands” begs the question who or what was slaughtered? Mosquitoes? Rats? Bloggers?
– Beware of abbreviations. Your reader might misunderstand. “Flood Waters Rise in LA” could mean Los Angeles or Louisiana.
Well written headlines are powerful. They are a call to action to read more. So be sure that you headline delivers the write message.
John Bradley Jackson
© Copyright 2006 All rights reserved.
P.S. You can read the actual Jumbo Squid article at: