Some of us have trouble writing clear headlines. The following post tries to iron out a few of the troubles.

You have to be clear, short, and complete when writing a headline. To write a news headline, write the lead (the first sentence of your news that sums up the news) first and then eliminate all prepositions, articles, adjectives, conjunctions, and punctuation from the lead. You will be left with something that reads like a telegram, which is written in telegraphic English.

Now rewrite this headline in “historical present tense”, which is writing about a past action in present tense. So, instead of writing ‘Gunman killed five people in Washington’, write ‘Gunman kills 5 in Washington’. You can use this tense with most verbs by adding an “s”, like kills, shoots, announces, declares, etc.

Use a semicolon (;) to separate two thoughts in the headline, like ‘Gunman kills 5; arrested’. Use a comma when you have to use ‘and’, like ‘Gunman, accomplice kill 5; both arrested’. Use a colon (:) or a dash (–) as a substitute for ‘says’ or ‘said’. When the speaker comes before the quote, use colon, and when he comes after, use dash instead. Like here: ‘Obama: “Healthcare important for every American”’, but ‘“Healthcare important for every American” – Obama’.

Next, we have to tell the readers straight away, in the first 2-3 words, what is the news about. Which company, which celebrity, which place, what subject are they going to read about. Readers should have very clear idea about what they can expect from the headlined news.

Plus, we keep the headlines as short as possible. Online readers read fast; so fast that it cannot be called reading anymore. It’s scanning. So, readers are just scanning content on the Web, and they cannot afford to waste their time on reading text that’s beating about the bushes, as opposed to coming straight to the point. If you’re trying to create suspense in your headlines, consider stopping doing that. Unlike print headlines, online readers don’t get curious; they get angry and move on. They’ve been hurt a lot in the past by promising headlines that proved to be ordinary stories.

So, remember short headlines and provide the gist of the news in the first 2-3 words. And be clear, short, and complete when writing a headline.

In case of any confusion, just get in touch with us.


Harpreet Bhagrath