The Rapidian

Keep your headlines concise, avoid funny business

Underwriting support from:
Your headline is a tool to attract readers. Make it work.

Your headline is a tool to attract readers. Make it work. /hipphop

From Rapidian staff*: The headline of your story is the first thing readers see on The Rapidian, Facebook, Twitter and many other places online. It’s a marquis sign, aimed at attracting the eye and piquing interest in the story it adorns. Some headlines are dry and some can be clever but what’s most important is that a headline be concise and descriptive.

The tone of the short space you use for a headline should continue into your story. Don’t mislead the reader by focusing the headline on a minor part of the story. Rather, use the headline to indicate the main theme of your piece. A crucial quote, intimidating dollar amounts, the date of an event or the central conflict of a piece all make good material for a news headline.

For feature and opinion headlines you have a little more room to be clever but even then, be concise most of all. Is there controversy? Use it. Can you evoke the senses? Do it. A headline is the tool you bring the reader into the story with. Make use of it .

The urge to be cute or use a witty turn of phrase can be alluring but writers should always consider the context. “Kill your darlings” is what William Faulkner said about using witticisms that didn’t add to a story. Puns and clichés should absolutely be avoided when working on a crime story, or something in which someone suffered loss.

Ask yourself if a reader would know what your piece was about given your headline—no more than 10 words. Avoiding repetition and ambiguity can keep your headline concise. Using present tense verbs and omitting articles can also increase the impact of your statement. Use a comma instead of the word "and," and use infinitive verbs for future tense.

If you have questions about your headline, try it on someone else. And when in doubt, keep it simple.


*Each week, a member of the Rapidian staff will publish a piece relating to goings-on at The Rapidian, developments in the world of citizen journalism and tips for making the most of the site.

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