It’s the headline that makes the sale in the publicity marketplace. The headline’s the one that grabs and holds the editor’s roving eye. No matter how brilliant your story may be, it won’t be read without the siren song of a headline.

Good to know, right? Better to know, though, is how to write a great headline.

  1. Keep it simple and direct. The goal of a headline is to hook the reader. Even with all the changes the digital era has brought, the typical headline remains only five to eight words. Examples: “Unresponsive Private Plane Crashes Off Jamaica” from the, and “Assassin Kills Kennedy: Lyndon Johnson Sworn In” from the Chicago Tribune.
  2. Express a complete thought. A headline has a verb, a subject, and sometimes an object. The stronger the verb, the better the headline will be. Examples: “Lava Threatens to Cut Off Town” from and “Titanic Sinks Four Hours After Hitting Iceberg” from The New York Times.
  3. Be specific. Readers make decisions in milliseconds. Don’t lose them by making generalities. Capturing their attention is in the details.
  4. Save the one- and two-word headlines for earthshaking events. Example: “Diana Dead” from The Daily News.
  5. Avoid the status quo. “No Word on New Tax Initiative” tells the reader not to bother reading. “Traffic Remains Top Commuter Complaint” is sure to induce a big yawn. 
  6. Watch the hyperbole and exaggeration. Forego using miracle, amazing, breakthrough, and other such words indicating the copy to follow is full of hot air. 
  7. Sidestep the “Upworthy Style.” Don’t bother with the trendy teasers hogging papering cyberspace, such as “This little boy was wheelchair-bound since birth. What happened at his aunt’s wedding will blow your mind.” Or, “This dog nursed an orphaned raccoon. You won’t believe the end result.”
  8. Apply the “doo-dah rule.” To make sure the headline sings (sounds good to the ear), say “doo-dah” after it. If there is a rhythm, you are good to go. Examples: “Nixon Resigns doo-dah” and “Dewey Defeats Truman doo-dah doo-dah.”