Writing Effective Headlines
In science writing it’s important to create good headlines. In our globalised, media-saturated world, we are constantly exposed to articles in newspapers, journals, magazines and on the web. Social networking sites such as facebook have even introduced apps that allow people to share articles they have read – science writing is everywhere. So how do you make your story stand out from all the rest? How do you write a headline that makes people stop and read your article?
Firstly, headlines need to grab people’s attention. Good headlines are short, simple, and direct. Key words are eye-catching, particularly if they relate to a current event, a topical or controversial issue or contain an emotive element. Interesting use of language such as wordplay, puns, and rhetorical questions is appealing, and can also attract a reader’s attention. It’s also important to consider the visual impact of a headline – they should be bold enough to stand out from the surrounding text.
Secondly, headlines must indicate the content of your story. They should encapsulate the main theme of the article or the major findings of the study. Also, consider how headlines can represent the validity of the research. For example, titles such as, “New research suggests…” or “Harvard study shows…” immediately give your writing credibility.
Furthermore, a headline’s tone should match both the house style of the publication and the style of the article that follows. For example, the articles on the New Scientist and ABC Science websites are aimed at non-scientists who have an interest in science. They are written in a colloquial style that is engaging and easy to read without containing too much information or scientific jargon.
However, all science writing, however informal, should try to represent science with integrity. In science journalism, it’s important to write an appealing headline without sacrificing an accurate portrayal of the topic.
Here are some articles with interesting headlines from the ABC and New Scientist websites:
Fukushima’s fate inspires nuclear safety rethink
The Fukushima syndrome
Both articles discuss safety concerns after the Fukushima nuclear disaster. I found the first headline more effective, as it sounded controversial and summarised the article’s content well. While the second article was well written, I thought the wording of the headline was misleading, the word “syndrome” suggesting health implications of the catastrophe.
Tiny dino had flashy feathers
I’m not interested in dinosaurs, but the rhyme and alliteration used in this catchy title really caught my attention. The article was detailed and scientific, but was written in an engaging style that matched the headline.
Exercise instantly boosts fat-busting genes
This headline sounded too good to be true! After reading the article, I thought it misrepresented the research. As only 8 men were studied, the research is quite unreliable. I felt the headline generalises and over-simplifies the results of the study. It makes an unrealistic and largely unsupported claim.
So what do you think makes a good headline?
Are there any on the ABC and New Scientist websites that appeal to you?