Look to great headlines for inspiration

girl-reading-upside-down.jpgOne of the toughest forms of writing for me is the headline, followed closely by girl-reading-upside-down.jpggirl-reading-upside-down.jpgthose snippets in a table of contents that are supposed to intrigue readers enough to want to read more. They’re challenging because they force you to condense your thoughts into just a few words, yet those words need to carry quite a punch.

Lots of writers offer advice on how to write headlines; a couple of my favorites are listed at the end of this post. I get most inspired by great examples, so I offer a few for your own motivation.girl-reading-upside-down.jpggirl-reading-upside-down.jpggirl-reading-upside-down.jpggirl-reading-upside-down.jpg

First, from BusinessWeek’s Small Business Success Stories:

Headline: “Restaurateurs Don’t Just Wing It”
Copy: “Passion isn’t enough. You’ll need a sound concept and management experience, and you should know that some of the most popular assumptions about restaurant failure are wrong.”

Popular assumptions being wrong? I have to know more – and find out if I would have known better. I love the way the headline plays on a favorite food, wings.

Of the two that follow, I like the first; alliteration is pleasing to the ear, and the writer puts an intriguing spin on the old concept of Arab-Israeli peace prospects. The over-used “unique perspective” in the second part of this pair disappoints me, though.

Headline: “An Entrepreneurial Path to Peace”
Copy: “By providing small businesses with incubators, Israeli industrialist Stef Wertheimer hopes to give Israelis and Arabs economic opportunities that will lead to peace.”

Headline: “Who Is Stef Wertheimer?”
Copy: “The Israeli industrialist has a unique perspective on how to reduce conflict in the Middle East.”

From The New York Times:

Headline: “Hope and Fear Ahead of Zimbabwe Vote”
Copy: “In Zimbabwe, where voters go to the polls on Saturday, elections are customarily preceded by a campaign of state-supported intimidation and skullduggery.” (A word like skullduggery is going to get my attention every time, and its use in a story about Zimbabwe surprised me.)

This next headline begs the question, “Well, why not?” and almost forces the reader to find the story. The copy would be better without the ambiguous “several.”

Headline: “Bats Perish, and No One Knows Why”
Copy: “Virus? Bacteria? Environmental toxin? Scientists are racing to diagnose a syndrome that is threatening several bat species.”

Opposites attract, which makes the following headline interesting.

Headline: “When Open Access Kept the Door Closed”
Copy: “Google has praised the government rules that will force Verizon to open its cellphone network to rivals. But experience suggests it may be hard to take advantage of these rules.”

From More Magazine:

This first story uses the popular magazine tactic of numbers, as in “10 ways to make yourself look younger.” It works with readers.

Headline: “How Much for that Dream?”
Copy: “Can you afford to change your life? 9 women tell what it cost.”

This headline sets up an artificial either-or that immediately gets readers thinking. Then the copy plays on most mothers’ worst fear.

Headline: “College vs. Retirement”
Copy: “Why it’s time to put the kids second – and why that won’t make you a bad parent.”

Finally, from one of the most well-written magazines on the planet, Smithsonian Magazine:

Headline: “Wild Things: Life as we know it”
Copy: “An Australian conservation group uses Hubble space telescope software to identify animals by their markings.”

A telescope for looking at animals? How unexpected! Tell me more.

Headline: “Pay Dirt in Montana”
Copy: “A librarian’s sleuthing turns up a crime with at least 100 victims.”

Oooh, crime — and a librarian. Again, the unusual, unexpected juxtaposition gets my attention.

For some great headline-writing advice, check out How to Write Headlines that Work at Copyblogger and The Sexy Art of Writing Headlines that Kill at FreelanceSwitch.com.

Care to share the best headline you’ve ever written or read?


4 thoughts on “Look to great headlines for inspiration

  1. Compelling headlines, yes! I have been working — and writing for — a CEO who bulks as such crafting of the language. Every day is a battle to turn headlines, such as, “Estate Planning for the Small Business Owner” (BORING!) to “Why Your Future Starts Now” (a bit better). I think I’ll check out that Copyblogger post.

  2. Does he let you use subheads? Maybe you can compromise by getting your way with an attention-grabbing headline, then making him happy with a subhead (in smaller type, of course!).

    • Thanks! Your post is great. (And I think Tiger Woods should be a little busier than he’s been handling his media coverage!)

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