Nine common headline snafus continue to elude the editing process
Recently I repeated my ongoing role of judging Best Headline entries in the annual AZBEE competition sponsored by the American Society of Business Publication Editors. As in the past, the usual snafus were present here and there. So it appears that there’s still a need to provide my annual refresher. This installment covers nine ways to inject more story value into every headline/deck.
- Include high-impact numbers. Many B2B editors still are not sufficiently tuned into writing headlines with a quantitative focus. Surprisingly, the shortfall is most notable in research-oriented features where numbers-oriented headlines shout to be written. Sure . . . you need not use a number every time. And sometimes numbers don’t see the light of day because the article’s author never tried to gather important quantitative facts.
- Covers using one or two”label” headlines should be replaced with at least four or five active heads.
- Every contents page blurb should be treated as a headline+deck combination. Each blurb’s aim is to sell reader value. Vague boldface heads accompanied by sketchy blurbs don’t do the trick. And try to avoid using isolated stet heads only to identify departments.
- Headline/deck “overlap” remains the most prevalent shortfall. This occurs when headline and deck essentially convey the same message. Sometimes a main headline of only three or four words has kicker value at best.
- Too many headlines are burdened by policies imposing maximum counts of three or four words. Other times, I find an overdose of attempts to be clever rather than informative.
- The editor’s personal column definitely requires a headline longer than two or three words. When I judge a Best Editorial Column competition, I am impressed when a headline, deck and call-out are used to underscore take-away value.
- Interesting letters to the editor often are burdened by two- or three-word “unheadlines.” If this is a matter of policy at your company, abandon it soon.
- A high-value headline describes what the writer discovered rather than the nature of the event covered. Somewhat related: a strong headline reflects the editor’s presence at the event.
- Last but not least, every caption written should function as a mini-headline. This definitely doesn’t happen when face photos accompanying a feature article are two-word labels consisting of the source’s first and last names.