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March 21, 2011 / piyasd01

What makes a good headline?

What makes a headline in an article interesting?  What makes a reader stop what they are doing and feel the need to read on to find out what the headline is referring to?

These questions direct me to discuss factors that need to be taken into account when writing an effective headline.

First and foremost, a headline should sell your story.  It needs to give an insight to the rest of the article.

Secondly, a headline needs to be written in a way that grabs the reader’s attention. This is achieved by selecting key words from the subject area. It needs to be clear and specific, but at the same time appealing. Use power words such as how to, discover, learn etc, which convinces the reader to read the entire article. Other ways to grab the audience’s attention is through the use of humour, rhetorical questions, puns and play on words.

Another important factor to consider is tone. The headline needs to match the tone of the rest of the article. For example, articles that are written for ABC are aimed at the general public (non-specialists), therefore is in a conversational tone.

In the following section, I have discussed 3 article headlines in the ABC and New Scientist websites that grabbed my attention and if it lived up to its headline.

This headline tapped into my curiosity. The title alarmed me about the possibility that my MP3 player which I use for entertainment on a regular basis can be used to hack into my car. It provides details on several weak points in a vehicle that can be used by hackers to gain access to a car. After reading the entire article, I came to the conclusion that it did, in fact live up to its expectation of the headline.

This title particularly interests me because in the past decade, Mother nature’s fury has being unleashed on every corner at more regular intervals. I’ve always wondered why Australia wasn’t severely affected by the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. The key, as Professor Goff from the Australian Tsunami Research Centre says,

COMES DOWN TO GEOGRAPHY.

The article did live up to its excellent attention-grabbing headline by providing reasons why Australia was spared by recent tsunamis.

The title of the article grabbed my attention since it claimed that elephants are smart as chimps and dolphins. However, after reading the article I did find out that the claim was just based on 1 study conducted in Thailand. This study (even though produced excellent results) doesn’t prove that elephants are in fact smarter than or as smart as chimps and dolphins in a global context.

Overall, an article headline needs to be short, precise and attention grabbing. This claim is supported through the examples I have provided.  Does anyone beg to differ?  Do you have more useful tips for writing headlines?

Please feel free to comment.

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4 Comments

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  1. Sarah Lambert / Mar 24 2011 7:20 am

    Hi Devinke,
    I find pertinent your opinion about what makes a good headline. You point the main goals of a headline: “a headline should sell your story” and “grab(s) the reader attention”. Also your argument that tone is important and should match the rest of an article is relevant.
    However I have some critics concerning the examples of headlines you chose. It seems to me that you emphasise more on the content of the articles you read than on the different aspects of the headlines which make them appealing. For example, you do not give the reasons of what exactly in the title “Elephant as smart as chimps, dolphins” grabs your attention.
    I would like to learn more about them.
    Regards,
    Sarah

    • piyasd01 / Mar 24 2011 10:54 am

      Hi Sarah,

      Thanks for your feedback.

      I understand why you said that I emphasised more on the article content rather than the headline. In my defence the question for my topic said:
      “Are there any titles that particularly interest you on ABC or New Scientist news? Why? Has the article then lived up to the expectation of the title?”.
      Therefore, I tried to give an indication of why a particular headline interested me and by assessing the rest of the article indicate, if in fact the headline did justice to the content of the article.

      I do agree with your comment about the third article “Elephants smart as chimps, dolphins” -that I haven’t made it clear why the headline grabbed my attention. From my background knowledge, I know that elephants have a good memory. Therefore it was interesting for me to see if they were also intelligent because having a good memory does help in being smart.

      Hope that clarifies your question.

      Regards,
      Devinka

  2. Poonam Rajmane / May 26 2011 6:10 am

    Hello Devinke,
    I liked the way you have imposed how important a headline is to grab someones attention. It’s the headline which tempts the reader to read further. Many people surf through lot of articles, as of today we all are information overloaded and headline channels the brain to take in information which is needed. Our brain functions in a way that we see, if at all we find it interesting we continue reading otherwise we ignore it completely.
    What I like about the way you presented your topic by giving examples which are apt and one can identify with them when they read your article. You convey your side of the story with these examples. You also give people an idea how to make their article headlines interesting and attention seeking ( i dnt know if the word suits in here).
    Overall the blog is good and stresses the message of having an eye catchy headlines pertinent to particular set of audience.

    Regards,
    Poonam Rajmane

  3. ushachandra / Jun 11 2011 3:15 pm

    Good Post Devinke. I agree that there is a very large package behind a headline’s importance. Imagine having a tiny font with unattractive font and color as a headline.

    Thus, fonts factor is also vital to attract one’s attention to the article.
    I agree with Poonam that we function in a way those we only see and read what attracts us. Even if that means browsing the internet or even the newspaper. I like your sample title of how an Mp3 can be used to hack your car? I got interested in that topic because it is unusual. It relates to our daily duties such as driving.

    In total, good blog, interesting facts and your headline title did attract my attention. Thank you.

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