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A recent article in The Atlantic dealt with newspaperheadlines. The writer made the point that most newspaper headlines were dull and didn’t do much to grab the attention of the reader. I beg to differ. A daily or weekly newspaper isn’t the same thing as a supermarket tabloid. In the best sense of the word, a newspaper is about news. It isn’t about the exploits of celebrities. Sometimes the best headline isn’t a very exciting one.

Still, the article has a point when it comes to headlines. If you want people to read your written work, a good headline helps. How do you write a good headline? These tips will help:

1) Write the article first, then work on the headline. There are times when you have a great idea for an article but not for the headline. When this happens, it is best to work on the article and see what words and ideas emerge from the piece. Once you are finished with the article, ideas for a headline will come forth and it will better fit the piece than if you worked on the headline first.

2) Impose a word limit of 10 to 15 words. While it sounds counterintuitive, setting a word limit can spur creativity. Since you can’t use a lot of words, what words you do use must be chosen carefully. That can lead to a great headline.

3) As much as possible, don’t use adjectives or adverbs. A good headline denotes action. Some notable recent headlines:
“Israel Blast U.S. Over Iran” The Wall Street Journal September 12, 2012
“Months to Go, Gettysburg is on War Footing” The Philadelphia Inquirer September 9, 2012 These headlines make you stop and want to read more. So, if your headline has adjectives or adverbs, get rid of them and see if that makes it better.

4) Make sure you read and re-read your headline multiple times to be sure it makes sense. See if you can figure out what is wrong with the following headlines from Nuffy.net. After all, you wouldn’t want your headline to be fodder for Jay Leno or David Letterman on late night television.
Alton Attorney Accidently Sues Himself
Caskets Found As Workers Demolish Mausoleum
County To Pay $250,000 to Advertise Lack of Funds
Federal Agents Raid Gun Shop, Find Weapons

As difficult as writing can be, headline writing is more difficult. Still with practice, your headlines can fit the written work and draw the reader in, which is what a good headline does.