A headline is the first thing any person will see when they look at a news article or story. Whether heading up a web page or sitting above a physical article in a newspaper, it is the main source of advertising the individual piece is going to get. The headline is the one chance a paper has to convince someone to give the work more than a passing glance. Naturally, it should be something that quite a bit of thought is put into. Especially if the author in question is just starting out and doesn’t have any reputation behind his or her name. Quicksprout’s “Definitive Guide to Copywriting” makes it rather succinct: “A great headline convinces more people to read your story while a poor one sends them somewhere else to spend their money.”
The thing that should always be kept in mind when creating a headline is that its first job is to describe the story. The equivalent to the summary that appears on the back of a paperback, only it’s on the front and also the title. Whatever is written should accurately represent the content of the article. If the story is about spiders, then the word ‘spider’ or ‘arachnid’ should appear in the headline somewhere. A site from the University of California put it bluntly. “Ask yourself this question as you compose a headline: If people see my five to ten words, will they know what the article is about?” On the same point, it is generally a good idea to keep it short. The details are for the story, not the title.
With a shorter, succinct headline, word choice becomes extremely important. The piece will be fighting for page space with every other article in the newspaper or on the front page of a website. A story that can get the most out of every single word it uses will have a far better chance of beating out the competition. The language used must be clear and unambiguous. A word with multiple meanings should generally be substituted for a more specific word as long as it isn’t too obscure. The general public needs to be able to understand exactly what the headline is trying to say at a glance. Often that is the only chance it has to hook them in, which is why boring, meandering, or repeated speech should be avoided at all costs. Once again, something quick and to the point will do miles better.
Finally, grammar is a more interesting beast in a headline. While spelling is still important and using words incorrectly will cause problems, the actual sentence structure of the title is generally less important than in most cases. Lots of headlines are too short to make a full sentence and can easily get away with dropping less critical words every now and again. As long as it doesn’t come out choppy, it should be fine.
Keeping these points in mind should help keep focus when creating a headline, even if they don’t make it any easier. Describing the story in a short, interesting manner will work wonders for attracting an audience. Just remember to put as much (and most likely more) work into the actual article. A promise should be made good on once the audience is drawn in.