headings and subheadings can be tricky
to write but they’re often the most important part of any document. Here are
8 tips for powering up your headlines and subheadings, starting with tip number
1: take your time the advertising legend David Ogilvy once remarked that on
average five times as many people read the headline as read the body copy,
meaning when you’ve written your headline you’ve spent 80 cents out of
your dollar. In other words your headline isn’t an afterthought. Don’t leave it to
the last minute to come up with your headline. Instead, invest time in coming
up with a great one. That brings me to my second tip: brainstorm lots of options.
Don’t settle for the first thing that comes to mind. Can you come up with ten
different headlines for that next blog post or report? Try it, then pick the best
one. Tip three: write headlines not labels. But what do I mean by that? Well, let’s
say for example that you’re writing a report about your company losing the top
spot for customer satisfaction. You might have a section of the report labeled
‘Background’, but that doesn’t really tell us much about what follows. Exactly what
aspect of the back story is covered here? In this case a headline would be
much more compelling – something like ‘Why are we slipping down the rankings?’. This
gives your reader a much clearer idea of what follows. Some readers may know why
the company’s fallen down the rankings and don’t need this background. Others
will not know. Using a headline instead of a label helps your reader find the
information that’s most relevant to them. Tip number four: use lots of action words.
Compare the rather bland, label-like heading ‘A message from the community
relations team’ with a headline that expresses an action, such as ‘Sign up to
volunteer this weekend’. The second one isn’t simply more dynamic – it also talks
to the reader much more directly. It’s about the readers perspective, not the
perspective of the community relations team.
Tip number five: business writing doesn’t have to be boring and bland so Cosmo it!
Take inspiration from the cover lines on magazines like Cosmopolitan, which are
deliberately crafted to entice the reader. Now, Cosmo’s level of raunchiness
and raciness may not be appropriate for your audience.
But their headlines’ drama and dynamism could work just as well. For example,
could you take this Cosmo headline – ‘The silent clue men give off when they’re in
love’ – and adapt it to your topic? Tip six: don’t try to be too clever. In
particular, avoid the kind of fantastic headlines you often see in newspapers. If
your pun’s too obscure you’ll only confuse your audience. Worse still, you
risk alienating them and turning them off. Tip 7: pull your reader in by asking
a question. But don’t ask a question that has an obvious answer. Instead, you want
to leave your reader feeling compelled to find the answer inside your body copy.
Questions like ‘Are you paying too much for your health insurance? Here’s how to
tell’. Or ‘Why do people support Donald Trump?’. These questions elicit intrigue
because the answer isn’t obvious and so they encourage the reader to read on. Tip
number eight: avoid the dreaded curse of corporate writing that is the -ing
headline. These are headlines that include bland -ing phrases like
‘Delivering growth’, ‘Achieving our goals’ or ‘Attracting top talent’.
These are bland, lazy labels that have clearly been plonked at the top of a
piece of text as an afterthought. Spend a little more time to come up with
something more compelling and creative. Finally, add value. Your reader’s going to be
thinking ‘What’s in it for me?’. So make sure your headline communicates a clear
benefit for that reader. I’m Dr. Clare Lynch of Doris and Bertie.
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