Why do some writers find it hard to write active and dynamic headlines?
I was pondering this after training a room full of wary corporate reporters and designers in the rudiments of headline writing.
They were keen to learn but lacked confidence. “Don’t you think it’s an art rather than something that is learned,” asked one. “You’ve either got it or you haven’t.”
To an extent she’s right – it’s why some people in mainstream newsrooms are subeditors and others are reporters. But in the corporate world, writers often take on both roles.
My trainees also said that corporate news sometimes lacks the punch of its newsstand counterparts and is repetitive. They argued there are only so many headlines you can use for a company that makes one type of widget.
No! Headline choices are endless if you write each story with different angles. If you have the luxury of being in charge of both the story and the headline, make sure your news has legs. Write your body copy with panache and you’ll sow the seeds to create powerful heads.
If you doubt your headline skills, be more positive about the transferability of your talents. Anyone writing professionally in the corporate field adapts their style for different audiences and formats, so they can also learn to write a powerful, persuasive headline.
If you’re journalist-trained, you’ll already have good grounding. Many of the writing lessons you learned are the same for headlines. Do any of these tips strike a chord?
1. Use present or future tense
2. Write in the active not passive voice – I write a blog, not a blog was written
3. Get to the point
4. Avoid clichés such as wheelie good, the way ahead or location, location, location
5. Beware of hype – was an event really massive, great or unique? Was a person brave or doing their normal job?
Headlines have always been important, whatever the medium. They’re a teaser for the rest of your copy. They pique readers’ curiosity. So they deserve some crafting, not a last-minute ‘I suppose I’ll have to do this’ filler.
In print you can get away with obscure statements like The Sun’s famous Gotcha! and readers will understand it, especially next to an appropriate picture.
But to draw in online readers, who scan onscreen, you need headlines to make sense on their on. Written clearly, with keywords, and lots of punch, they’re more likely to be picked up by search engines and grab the attention of social networking sites and RSS feeds.
Many corporations are integrating their communications with blogs, microblogs, web pages and video now standing alongside traditional print.
As the online revolution gathers pace, the workplace writer would be wise to put nerves aside and learn to love the art of headline writing.