Write better headlines by doing these things first

Short and sweet phrasing can be really powerful, but writing those short, concise headlines can often be a serious challenge. The truth is that great writing takes time and thoughtfulness. Sure, writing 100 headlines on a page is a great way to get your brain thinking about a subject and an even better way to explore all the ways you can phrase something, but if you’re not writing each headline with purpose, then you’re doing twice the work for double the frustration.

Before you can finalize that really emotional phrase, there’s a few key things you should do first.

Know what you’re trying to say

It sounds obvious, but seriously understand the objective of what you’re trying to write. Not just the functional purpose or what the brief tells you the objective is, but the emotional message you’re hoping to convey to the reader. Try to think about the bigger journey you want your reader to go on. Make sure you include context when you think about the journey. For example if you’re writing for a web page, have a rough idea how the site’s structure will inform the various lines on the page. If it’s writing a headline for a print ad, think about how your words will interplay with the visual and, if possible, the media placement of where it’s going to be seen. 

Find a few unique ‘tension’ points

A tension point is some sort of interesting conflict you can add into your statement. Simply put, it creates a sense of tension or suspense or urgency in the reader. You can add tension into your headline in a variety of ways. Sometimes it can be built into the construct of your headline, like a “this not that” statement. Other times, it’s what you don’t say that creates the tension through implied knowledge or a cliff hanger. Tension is a really powerful tool. No matter how it shows up, make sure it’s always based on a truth and taps into something the reader already knows. Try using both constructed tensions and implied ones when you sit down to start crafting.

Have an insight into your readers needs

Similar to a tension point, you should have a variety of insights that your audience can relate to. After all, the most important thing for your headline to do is to connect with those you’re trying to reach, so understanding them is only going to make things easier. Get help from your strategic partners if you need it, but try to understand what drives your reader. Try to find ways to craft headlines that appeal towards the emotional benefit you want readers to feel. Similarly, you can think about what makes them tick or gets them excited. The more you can make your writing feel true to your audience, the more it will resonate with them.

Revise. Edit. Rewrite.

A perfectly crafted headline doesn’t come from writing 100 vastly different headlines. It comes from finding the one gem within those 100 pieces of copy and then writing it 100 different ways. You can’t really identify the perfect line until you’ve locked in a story, created a bit of tension and found some insight into your audience. But once you do, you’ll hopefully have a few lines that stand out. Take those lines and see how you can revise them. It’s not just about removing, adding or replacing words, sometimes you need to find new ways to phrase something and in some cases changing the line entirely. 

Writing good headlines requires us to write smart. It takes planning, some research and a lot of hard work to get to something great. Before you launch into your next assignment, take a step back first and find the story, tension points and insights that will really draw your reader in.


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