It’s a crowded marketplace out there and you’ve got to shout to be heard. The reader is being barraged with messages from myriad different sources every waking moment of his day, all vying for his attention in an attempt to influence his decision to invest in a given product or service. You’ve got to articulate yourself and be heard above the din.

A good, well thought-out headline helps you do just that. As you’ll already know, the primary function of a headline is to ‘hook’ the reader in to see what’s on offer and the ways in which he’d benefit were he to consider the proposition.

Writing compelling headlines is a craft that one hones and perfects with long years of practice. In fact, advertising agencies and newspapers have specialists dedicated to writing attention-grabbing headlines for news stories and ad campaigns.

Now, all of us cannot aspire to be professional headline writers, but at least we can try. Here, then, are a few tips that you could try the next time you’re racking your brains to come up with a headline with some punch.

What’s in it for me?

One of the ground rules of effective headline-writing is to quickly lead the reader into the body copy, the heart of your message. To do this, you need address a need and state the potential benefit(s) right at start.

Make the right connections


A headline, to serve its purpose, must connect with the reader. The operative word is ‘connect’. You need to connect at two levels – one, spell out the need clearly. And two, connect that need to benefits or gains if he were to take you up on your offer. In other words, your headline and the script of your message should be in sync.

Be truthful and realistic

Do not make exaggerated claims. The reader is quick to smell tall claims and will dismiss your offer upfront. And with that, you’ll have lost out on all the virtues of your product that you’d extolled further into the copy. If you must make a claim, sound credible.

Appeal to the reader’s sentiments

At the risk of repetition, an effective headline entices the reader to delve into your ad copy. Try captions that arouse the reader’s curiosity, intrigue, inspire and excite him to read through on the offer.

Another tack that you might take is humour but don’t try to be wacky – the reader might not appreciate your wit and bother with reading your offer.

Create a sense of immediacy

A good headline must, among other things, motivate the reader to act. Write in the active voice and use action verbs.

Exercise restraint

Sure, you’re smart and have a way with words, but resist the urge to be excessively ‘punny’ or witty. You might just come across as showing off and trying to prove to the world how clever you are. Also, avoid clichés that are over worn and tiring.

Trim the flab

Attention spans are short and retention even shorter. Keep your headlines tight and crisp. Drop prepositions (is, are) and articles (a, an, the). Ideally, your headlines should not exceed 8 to 10 words at most. Cut down on unnecessary verbiage.

Headlines don’t have to be complete sentences with a full stop (period) at the end, though you may use the question mark if the headline is a query. And yes, ALL CAPS is a no-no. Use upper case at start and for proper nouns with the rest of the words in lower case.

When all else fails, improvise

Well, you can’t be original and inventive all the time. There’re times when you’re really hard-pressed to come up with a captivating headline and the inspiration is just not forthcoming. To overcome such situations, it’s a good idea to build a repository of sorts and keep a stock of captions and titles that have held your attention. Dip into this collection and pick up one that has got the right ring to it and rephrase with specific words that connect with the proposition on offer.

In the end, there’s no sure-fire way or a proven ‘bag of tricks’ to write killer headlines. You need to experiment, intuit and emote in varying degrees, try out combinations, mix and match, and keep your fingers crossed for the desired results!

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