Maybe you’ve been given the responsibility for producing a newsletter, or are writing a piece for your company’s newsletter, and need a headline for it.
Or maybe you’re writing a blog site post. Or it could be a white paper. How about a sales sheet? A catalog item, or a Power Point presentation?
You may very well be writing any of a number of pieces on the job that require a headline. How do you come up with a “killer headline”?
Well, a “killer headline” admittedly takes great genius, and in some cases many weeks to come up with. But as for the rest of us, writing very good, and even excellent headlines relatively quickly is a skill that can be learned. And who knows – a “killer headline” may even sneak in from time to time!
1. Begin by thinking of the type of publication where this headline will appear: digital or print; commercial; in-house; company-specific; a sales piece (e.g., catalog item, sales sheet, sales letter); and the sort of subject matter it carries.
2. Who is the most likely reader, and what is the problem you will solve for him or her? Remember you are writing to that person who needs to read what follows. What is most likely to catch his or her attention, and cause that reader to want to read more?
3. Considering the reader and the type and “feel” of the publication, what is the most appropriate tone to use? Tone is the relationship the writer sets up, or reinforces, with the reader.
For some headlines, a play on words, or a humorous headline may work very well. For others, a simple “label” headline, clearly “labeling” what the piece is about, may be far more appropriate. Regular day-to-day business email subject lines often fall into this category. Think about the appropriateness of your headline, considering the tone and expectations of your organization, and “how we do things around here,” when writing for, and to, your organization, and its readers.
An email inviting employees to the company picnic, for example, will probably be a bit more light-hearted than, say, writing a “command performance” memo to employees to ensure their attendance at the annual meeting.
4. Decide whether you are writing to inform (generally a “label” headline will be the safest, if not always the most interesting), or to persuade – frequently this involves “sales,” but not always.
5. Next time you’re in the checkout line at the super market, read the headlines on the magazines displayed there. Do a bit of primary research. Make a note of which magazine headlines draw you in, the ones that make you want to learn more. What it is that makes those headlines “work”? No matter the subject of the headlines that appeal to you, most can still be adapted for your use.
6. You’ll probably notice that many ideas will be floating around in your head, as you consider your headline while reading others. That’s good! You’ll get many of your headlines right there at the super market. Now, see if you can analyze your favorites by type, as you read the following “thought starters”:
a. Provocative headlines that generate curiosity. While this type of headline usually rates at, or near the top of the experts’ lists of favorite headlines, beware! This one is also arguably the toughest to make work, and may not be your best choice. It’s tough to write one that does not seem a bit amateurish, and perhaps a bit sophomoric as well. Not generally the right tone on the job.
A classic example of a provocative headline, still used in headline writing classes:
If a Fire Broke Out in Your Home Tonight, Could You Get Your Family Out in Time?
Take a minute right now, to draft a provocative headline for a piece you are writing:
And let’s leave it there for now. We’ll continue next week, with at least five more types of headlines, and a list of words and phrases you can use, or adapt.
See you then!
Gail Tycer offers business writing workshops and presentations, executive coaching, consulting, and writing services. To discuss how we might work together, call Gail at 503/292-9681, or email firstname.lastname@example.org