4 Tips on How to Write Headlines like a Journalist

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You’ve spent hours writing and editing your piece. Now, all you need to do is write a headline and publish. Yet, this seems to be the hardest part. Right?

Whether you are writing a blog, a magazine or news article, most writers agree that crafting a good and catchy headline is one of the most challenging aspects of writing. Yet, these first few words are crucial – headlines can make or break how your article performs. Catchy headlines can give you higher click rates, more readers/followers, encourage higher rate of engagement and result in better sales/profit. After all, 5x as many people read the headline than the actual copy. 

In this article, we will discuss what makes good and subpar headlines and how you can apply these basic principles to spice up your own writing.

So, what makes a great magazine headline?

1. Good headlines are creative and leave the reader wanting more

Photo by Vlada Karpovich from Pexels

A bold, creative headline will instantly grab your readers’ attention. With fierce competition and many publications vying for your readers’ attention, taking an out of the box approach will more likely catch their eye. When something catches your attention, you are more likely to make time to read it or spend money to buy it.

Good headlines ‘play’ with language and use compelling words. Try alliteration to enhance the readability of your headline or use puns to give it layers/shades of meaning. Replace tired, overused adjectives with descriptive words that will stand out and create vivid images in your readers’ mind.   

Headlines that tap into your readers’ curiosity will more likely grab their attention. So, how can you do this? Use specific numbers to convey value, make bold statements that are controversial, convey a sense of urgency or give your readers a solution to deal with a problem.   

Here are examples of headlines that hit the right spot … 

  • Parenting Guru: From Chaos to Access 
  • Care Homes Catastrophe 
  • 7 Instant Confidence Boosters 
  • 18 Ways to Dominate YouTube: The Ultimate Guide 
  • Are You Too Clever for Success?
  • Party like it’s $19.99
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As you can see, good headlines don’t give too much away and invite the reader to continue reading to satisfy their curiosity. Your headline should be a tease, giving them a little taste of the article – enough to get them interested – but leave them wanting more.

2. Good headlines have a unique and clear angle

Approach your topic from a unique angle but make sure that your headline represents your article honestly and clearly. Don’t tiptoe around the topic of your text – be transparent so that your readers know what to expect, but find an engaging angle that will stir their interest.

In order to find a unique angle to engage your readers, think about the following questions:

1. What aspect of the story is the most interesting? This might be a good way to make it stand out amongst the noise.

2. What is the tone of your story? Your headline should clearly reflect the tone of your story.

3. Identify the 5Ws and H. Think about why this story is important to read and craft your headline around an emphasis of the why or the how.

4. Personalize the headline so that readers can connect and relate to it at a personal level. How might this issue/story impact their everyday lives?

3. Good headlines use emotional language

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Emotive language can help you forge powerful connections with your audience. Research has shown that emotive language is the most powerful form of rhetoric to connect and engage with your audience. Using strong emotive words that create vivid images in your readers’ mind is more likely to get your readers to invest in your story and continue reading the article. 

Emotion based headlines are also critical to persuasive texts/articles – they speak to our underlying desires and fears as human beings. Finding the right way to use the right vocabulary to highlight the emotional benefits to your readers is key. This gives the impression that you empathize with your readers and understand their problems. 

Here are a few emotional adjectives that you can use to describe your readers’ problems: essential, free, effortless, painstaking, absolute, incredible, best, eye opening, miracle, triumph, hero, courage, hope, etc. 

Examples:

  • Learn How To Stand Up for Your Boss and Let Him See What You’re Really Worth

Emotional benefit:  being more assertive 

  • Are You Working Harder than Ever, but Still Worried about Layoffs?

Emotional benefit:  feeling more in control of your life 

  • How to Take Command at Any Meeting

Emotional benefit: feeling heard and respected 

  • How to Survive and Thrive in a Recession 

Emotional benefit: feeling more financially secure 

4. Good headlines are written using headline formulas 

Following  a tried and tested formula will help you craft better headlines quickly. Based on her analysis of headlines, Lenka Istvanova developed a formula to help other writers create effective headlines. This is the formula:

Number + Adjective + Keyword + Rationale + Promise 

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Another common formula used is to identify a problem, offer a solution and then make a promise. Here’s an example:

How to Increase Your Search Traffic Without Building Links

  • How to increase: Solution
  • Search traffic: Challenge
  • Without building links: Promise

Bronn, who writes for Kissmetrics, outlines a simple five part approach to ensure that your headlines make an impact. He suggests using the acronym SHINE.  Before publishing, ask yourself, does your headline meet this criteria?

S – Specific 

H – Helpfulness 

I – Immediacy

N – Newsworthiness

E – Entertainment value 

What should you avoid when writing magazine headlines?

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Sensationalism

“Tabloid” publications are well known for sensational coverage – dramatized, unverified information that blow issues out of proportion. While sensationalism works by trying to lure readers, they generally target fewer readers. Readers today are media savvy – they know when you are misrepresenting information and will lose trust in the publication.

Hyperbole

Exaggerated statements make for poor magazine headlines. Hyperbole is not meant to be taken seriously – and readers know this. Magazines that rely on these tricks often lose out in the long run as readers want to read articles with real, verifiable facts. Exaggeration misconstrues factual information and will destroy the trust readers have for the publication as a real and reputable source of news.

Also, when authors rely on hyperbole to grab the readers’ attention and then do not deliver, they might actually leave readers  disappointed when they get to the actual story.

Cruelty

When tabloids exploit the misfortune of another in order to sell copies or get more clicks, they inevitably alienate/turn off their more educated readers. Cruel headlines that deliberately take advantage of someone’s bad fortune is unprofessional and unethical. Your readers deserve better than that!

Need help in creating attention-grabbing headlines? Start a project with us today!

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