Friday, October 5, 2012

Titles that say 'skip me'

Recently, I smirked at a headline in my local newspaper's business section:
"Frosty interview may signal trouble." Is there really anyone who wouldn't interpret a chilly atmosphere in the interview room to mean that it wasn't going well?

The purpose of a headline is not to convey information. Its purpose is to get you to read the story. The same goes for the title of a book -- the purpose is to get you to pick it up and hopefully even buy it.

Of course, conveying information is one way, and often the best way, to engage a reader's attention. (Other methods include asking questions and using kickers, which I'll discuss in another post.) To do this in a headline, you can summarize the article, or pick a point to highlight, or tell why the reader should care.

However, conveying the information that an article will contain staggeringly obvious points is NOT the way to get people to read it. Why would anyone want to read that column? I'd be more likely to read one with a totally bland headline like "Tips for job interviews" than the one here.

Because I've worked in newspapers, I know that the editor often writes the headline, rather than the reporter or columnist doing so. Sometimes the editor is rushed or even incompetent, so a dumb headline doesn't necessarily mean the article is bad, any more than a witty headline means it's good.

Even a smart, witty, or urgent-sounding headline won't always draw readers. But my goodness, doesn't it help?

Please let me know if you'd like to share any really obvious, dumb, or funny-by-mistake headlines or titles!

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