Thursday 12 March 2015

Don't Judge an Article by its Headline

We've all heard the saying "Don't judge a book by its cover".  And yet we all do it.  An attractive cover immediately catches our eye and pulls us in; an unattractive one turns us off.  The same is true of headlines. We are attracted to captions that are humorous, witty or sensational; we tend to ignore captions that are boring or run of the mill.

The headline is one of the most important parts of a feature article:  it is the first thing the reader sees, it's what the reader recalls, it gives the reader an idea of the article's content, and it gives the writer the best opportunity to market the article.

According to David Aston, here are some ways to write a headline:

1.  Use a how to headline

ex. "How to Tie a Tie in 5 Easy Steps", Esquire (

2.  Identify and Solve a Problem

ex.  "To Fall in Love with Anybody, Do This", New York Times

3.  Make a Statement

ex. "Ambush of Policemen Triggers Manhunt in Racially Tense Ferguson", Reuters (

4.  Strike a Note of Controversy

ex. "Map of Shame;  Do Canadians have access to world class cancer treatments?  Only if you live in the right province", Reader's Digest (

5.  Pose a Question

ex. "What's Wrong with the Blurred Lines Copyright Ruling?", New York Times

6.  Offer an Explanation

ex. "Help from the Hit Man:  Music producer David Foster does more than make gold records; he fosters a charitable organization dear to many Canadians' hearts", Reader's Digest

7.  Use intrigue

ex. "Merchant of Murder:  Civil Servant Rick Mofina Kills people -- in his mind, as a crime fiction writer", Reader's Digest

8.  Finality (ultimate, best, only)

ex. The 25 Best Diet Tips of All Time, Prevention (

9.  make it unusual

ex. "Wall Street Lays Egg", Variety, Black Monday, 1929

10.  make it sensationalistic

ex. "Headless Body in Topless Bar", New York Post (

11.  use a simile or metaphor

ex. "Coffee So Fresh You'll Want to Slap It", Reader's Digest

12.  refer to an historic event

ex. "Gold Rush:  Can Canadian Olympic Athletes Hope to Score Some Heavy Metal?", Reader's Digest (

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