20/20 #6 — Attention-grabbing headlines

The headline is your first, and sometimes only, chance to grab the reader’s attention and get them to click on the story and read further. 

Direct headlines:

  • Tell the story: headline should be consistent with what is in the story
  • Interesting and accurate
  • Consistent in tone with the story
  • Clear and concise
  • Be specific — use people names and place names

good: Democrats to spend $1 million against Bachmann

not so good: Minnesota House race goes national

not so good: Congresswoman criticizes candidate

For the web

  • Think search terms — names, places, keywords
  • SEO = Search Engine Optimization

good: Obama supporters’ tires slashed in North Carolina

not so good: Animosity over campaign growing

Headlines with a twist

  • Ask questions
  • Use quotes
  • Grab the reader
  • Colorful but clear

What do you think about these headlines? Are they direct? Do they signal what the story is about? Do they make you want to keep reading? Why or why not?

Michelle Bachmann: Obama may be “anti-American”

Blagojevich Viewed As Campaign ‘Kryptonite’

Third time’s the charm for Minnesota soldier’s dog

Stylists try to snip domestic violence before it happens

Powell’s Obama Endorsement Sparks Reaction: “Nail In The Coffin” For McCain


  • Even if you’ve heard it all your life, other people have not
  • Remember that not all readers grew up in Minnesota
  • Watch the thin line between clever and cute
  • Be careful with slang and colloquialisms
  • Stay away from clichés

Hands on:

Pick three stories from today’s news and write three alternative headlines for each of the stories.


©2008-2014 Mary Turck