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How do You Say it in Ten Words or Less?
by Shery Ma Belle Arrieta-Russ
A Great Story!
Ok, so you've written a very good article, story or feature. You've nailed down your lead paragraph, and you think it's guaranteed to blow the socks off your editor and you have the gut feeling that he will love the article.
You Aren't Done Yet!
Don't think that after you've written your lead and your story, you're finished. Not yet. There's this one last thing you have to do and that is, write your headline or your title. Why does headline writing come last in the process? It's because it takes its cue from your lead paragraph and story. It serves as the "display window" of your article.
Ten Words or Less!
Because article titles and headlines usually consist of ten words or less, you should be able to pick out important or significant ideas and express the gist of your article in short, expressive and active words. If you have written a very good lead, you'll have no problem writing your title or headline. If your purpose is to intrigue your readers, you need to look at the significant points in your article. Ask yourself which idea or thought in your article can you use as a hook.
Get the Point Across!
In a nutshell, to be able to write an effective headline or title, you should be able to accurately convey to your readers what your story is all about in a short telegraphic sentence.
So how do you write your headline?
Here are some tips:
- Underline key words in your lead.
- From the key words, imagine yourself composing a telegram and compose your headline. Avoid using articles (A, An, The), prepositions (On, Under, Beside, etc) and details.
- Substitute simple but effective synonyms to key words. Say "polls" instead of "elections" or "go on" instead of "continue."
- Write headlines that are simple and easy to read. Don't use heavy words. Use words that are short and familiar.
- Directly give your story's main idea at the beginning of your headline.
- Use dynamic and powerful words.
- Always be specific and avoid generalities.
- Unless a person is well known, don't use his name in the headline.
- Don't repeat key words in your headline.
- Don't use weak verbs such as a, an, is, are.
- Don't start your headline with a verb.
- If you have to use abbreviations, do so only when the abbreviation is commonly known.
- Use numbers only if important and write them in figures.
- Use B for billion and M for million.
Copyright © 2001 Shery Ma Belle Arrieta-Russ
Shery Ma Belle Arrieta-Russ creates and teaches free e-mail courses for writers at WritingBliss.com. Sign up for a class today.
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