Improving blog headlines: lessons learned offline

While reading tips on on how to improve your blog, it occurred to me that I should look into lessons I’ve learned as a print journalist on how to improve articles and headlines and apply it to my blog. I keep this blog as online equivalent of a work book – in the hope that it could improve my writing – after reading a Poynter article on how writers can improve their craft.

Headlines are important in any printed medium because these lead readers to stories. With the large number of blogs all serving RSS feeds out there, a sharp headline and an even sharper first paragraph or lead help in drawing visitors from the RSS reading public to actually visit your blog.

A good blog headline gets readers’ attention, tells them the story or part of it and draws them into visiting the site and reading the rest of the article.

Here are tips I dug up – from old and worn notebooks I used in various journalism seminars – on how to write good headlines. I hope a few bloggers out there can find these useful.

1.) Use the present tense: Using the present tense conveys the feeling of immediacy. Use the present tense even for events that happened in the recent past. You write: “Developers release WordPress version 1.5.2″ and not “Developers released WordPress version 1.5.2″

2.) Use the active voice. The active voice construction is more dynamic. Headlines in the active voice are shorter and these pack more punch. The frequent example by lecturers is that “Man bites dog” is livelier than “Dog is bitten by man.” Use the passive voice if the object of the action is more important thus: “Salary increase approved by wage board.”

The headline on the story on the new WordPress version could be “New WordPress version released to fix bugs” since the existence of the new version is what interests readers the most, especially WordPress users.

3.) Delete articles. Delete the, a or an. This makes headlines leaner and more active.

4.) Take out “to be verbs.” Delete helping verbs such as is and are to save on space and make the headline more active thus: “Programmers are asked to write better code” should be written as “Programmers asked to write better code.”

5.) Choose shorter words but without sacrificing the meaning. “Non-government organization petitions chairman to leave post” is better off written as “Group asks chairman to resign.”

6.) Attribute statements. If you don’t attribute statements, readers (at least those who don’t continue reading the article) would assume that the statement is yours.

7.) Re-read headlines to check for grammatical errors and typographical mistakes. A good rule of thumb is to read headlines – especially those you’ve written – backward. Reading the headline from right to left forces you to concentrate more and thus you can, at times, catch misspellings you may have missed earlier.

After reading my notes, I went over the posts in this site and boy did I fail to follow the things taught in the seminars I’ve attended.

Support this blog and independent reporting on Cebu

6 responses

  1. You have made some excellent points there Max – thankyou

  2. Very well written tips to address the core. As bloggers who write stuff, we often ignore the “writing” part and focus too much on the SEO or other techie sides of blogging. Thanks for sharing your lession learned from being a joournalist. After all, blogosphere is a media and there are a lot of lessions learned from the old school traditional media world.

  3. Great tips! Post titles really have to be head turners… 🙂

  4. Thanks. I’m glad to hear you find it useful.

  5. Hello! I was reading about TiddlyWiki in your blog and I saw this great post about headlines – simple tips, but they’re ignored/forgotten for most bloggers. Can I translate it to portuguese for my blog readers (with link to the original post, of course)?

  6. Lu,
    Sure, go ahead. 🙂

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *