Advice on Headline Writing: Practice a bunch

Headlines are by far the most-read text in any publication or on any website. That alone means they deserve special care.

The importance of headlines goes beyond that, though. Headlines set the tone for articles and even entire publications. They help organize pages, guide readers visually and distinguish between the serious and the lighthearted. They summarize, but they also “sell” stories.

They do all this in just a few words.Headline writing is an important responsibility, but don’t let that create anxiety or stifle your creativity. Like anything else, headline writing takes practice. It also takes reflection. Always look at your work after publication. Do your headlines work with the story effectively? Will they attract people to the story? Do they seem different in print or on the Web than they did on your computer screen? If you see problems, what could you have done better? Is there a lesson there that will help you next time?

Similarly, how do your headlines compare with those of your co-workers? With headlines in other publications? That type of reflection is crucial if you are to improve.

What follows is an amalgam of wisdom and advice on headline writing that I have accumulated over the years. Much of it is my own, but some comes from former editing professors at KU, some from John Bremner’s books Words on Words and HTK, and some from editors around the country who have given workshops at conventions of the American Copy Editors Society.

Let’s begin with headline language. Follow the links at the top right of this post to continue.

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