I put a quick critique of headlines from today’s newsletter on the board. Of note:
Online headlines are far too long. If headlines are more than five or six words, chances are you’ve missed the news.
Our headlines are reading as promotional, not newsy. For example, “Campus carry committee welcomes student comments at town hall meeting” promotes the event, not the news in the story. Instead, state why this is important: “Town hall comments to influence campus carry exemptions” or something to that effect.
Headlines are stating the obvious. “RVSP works to prevent abuse in relationships” basically just states the department’s mission statement. Think like a reader. Why do I care about reading this story right now? Why should I stop what I’m doing right now and read this? The news isn’t who is hosting the event; it’s what is going on. Try, instead: “Domestic abuse prevention workshops start next week.”
Read your headlines out loud to see if they make logical sense. I read “Fracking drills uncertainty for water conservation” out loud, and I just got confused. I think we were trying to be cute with the verb – which I appreciate – but it doesn’t work. Instead, be straightforward: “Study links groundwater contamination to fracking” (Don’t make people guess what the story is about.)
Your focus should be on tightening, tightening, tightening. Rewrite any headline that is more than six words – aim for five. Doing so will force you to focus on what the heart of the story is.