The Best And Worst Ways To Write A News Headline

I’ve been a journalist for 15 years and I still get nervous when I have to write a headline. It’s the one thing that really separates good journalism from bad: 

A great headline can make people read on while a poor one will make them stop dead in their tracks before they’ve even started reading. But what makes for an effective news headline? Here are my top tips…

How to write headlines for beginner copywriters
1. Craft headlines that grab attention and spark curiosity.
2. Avoid misleading or clickbait headlines that disappoint.
3. Use keywords strategically for SEO and discoverability.
4. Keep headlines concise while conveying the main message.
5. Experiment with different headline styles and A/B test them.

Leave It Until Last

Once you’ve done all your research and written the body of your article, leave writing the headline for last. A lot of people get this wrong. They think that because it’s the most important part of a news article, they should start with it. But actually, that’s not true at all!

Why? Well:

  • The headline is what will make people stop scrolling through their feeds or clicking on links;
  • It needs to be short enough so that people can still read it on mobile devices;
  • It has to be catchy enough for readers to feel like reading more than just one paragraph;

If a reader does decide to continue reading after reading your headline then they’ll want some kind of promise from you as an author that what follows will live up to those expectations.

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Make The Audience Read On

Don’t make it too short.

“Police rearrest man in connection with the killing of father and daughter.”

Don’t make it too long.

“Police rearrest man in connection with the killing of father and daughter; the man was released on bail after surrendering to authorities over Christmas, but has now been charged once again with murder.”

Use Adjectives Sparingly

The best way to write a news headline is by using adjectives sparingly.

You should use adjectives that describe the story but avoid those that add nothing to it. 

For example, if your story is about a tornado ripping through a town and destroying a part of it, then “devastating” would be an appropriate adjective because it adds meaning to the story itself (the tornado’s destruction). 

If your headline says “Tornadoes devastate town!”, though, this is not helpful because all tornadoes are devastating; there’s no need for you to tell us this in your headline when there are other words or phrases that could better describe the event or situation at hand.

Crafting attention-grabbing headlines is crucial for any writer. Discover expert advice on writing headlines that work and captivate your readers from the first glance.

Avoid “False-Tag” Or “Pseudo-Tag” Headlines

The best news headlines are written with a specific reader in mind. If you’re writing a headline for the local sports section, you can be sure that the readers of that section care about the story. 

They want to know who won and what happened during the game. It’s not just some general collection of words they’re reading; it’s information that they need to know right now.

In contrast, false-tag headlines don’t center around any one reader at all. Instead of targeting someone specifically, these headlines try to appeal to everyone instead: “Man survives the bear attack.” 

While this may seem like an effective strategy because anyone could read it and understand what’s going on (and therefore be interested), it doesn’t allow for any personalization at all!

This leaves us with pseudo-tags instead headlines that sound like they could be relevant but aren’t relevant at all! 

This kind of headline would say something like “Man survives bear attack” without actually being about anything, in particular, it’s just about a generic thing someone did once or twice.

So avoid these two types and write your headlines with real people in mind!

Avoid Even Numbers

Odd numbers are more interesting than ever. The last century of psychological research has shown that odd numbers are more appealing to the human brain. Even numbers are boring and less newsworthy. 

A study by the University of Pennsylvania found that stories written in a format with lots of even-numbered paragraphs were less likely to be shared on social media, while those with an odd-number number of paragraphs were much more likely to be clicked on and commented on by readers. 

This is true for both fiction and nonfiction; if you want your story to be popular, make sure it has at least one odd number somewhere!

Pick Just One Key Message

How do you write a news headline? It’s a question that comes up regularly, and with good reason. People are always looking for ways to improve their writing skills especially when it comes to creating effective headlines.

But when it comes to writing headlines that attract readers, you have another goal: get them interested enough in what they’re reading so they stay with the story until the end, no matter how long it is.

Mastering the art of writing high-quality news articles is essential for journalists and bloggers alike. Check out our comprehensive tips for writing high-quality news articles to excel in delivering impactful news stories.

Don’t Use Quotes In Your Headline Unless They Are Worth Quoting. And Keep Them Short And Punchy

When it comes to quotes, you should use them only if the words themselves are worth quoting. It’s not good enough to just say “quote,” or “quoted.” That’s lazy and unnecessary. The reader deserves better than that!

When you have a quote in your headline, make sure it is short and punchy. You don’t want it taking up too much space because then other elements like the photo or byline might get crowded out of the way by an overstuffed quote. 

If at all possible try to keep your headline under 50 characters (including spaces) so it will fit nicely on social media platforms without being cut off mid-word or requiring scrolling:

Include a pun or play on words if you want – but only if it evokes an image, describes the story well, and makes people laugh.

There’s a reason why puns are often considered amateurish or cheesy. But when done right, they can be a great way to grab the reader’s attention in just a few words.

Here’s how:

Make sure your pun is funny. If you’re writing for an audience who will appreciate it, then by all means go ahead! Just remember that even if you think something is hilarious (like I do), not everyone will feel the same way.

Bring out images – in this case, puns often help to conjure up images of what brought about the situation or person in question. For example: “When asked if he would prefer to live on his own or with his mother, little Lenny replied ‘I don’t know my friends!'” 

This was an easy one because we can see two people arguing and hear them say those exact words at some point during their conversation and then imagine what might happen next!

Describe things well – sometimes when writing news headlines we forget that there’s someone out there who hasn’t heard about our story yet (or maybe read it already but wants more info). 

A good joke helps us describe things so clearly that even if someone didn’t get what happened before reading it again here (or somewhere else), they’ll still understand once we explain ourselves better by using humorously descriptive language.”

Be Careful When Writing About Children, Religion, And Sex. Readers Are Very Sensitive On Those Subjects, And There’s Rarely A Benefit For The Journalist To Be Sensationalist About Them

Don’t use “false-tag” headlines. A false-tag headline is when you give a piece of news a headline that doesn’t reflect the nature of it in any way. 

If you have breaking news nuggets that are going to be published in quick succession, choose one of those nuggets as your lead story and write your headline around it instead of trying to make all three stories fit into one vague but clicky-sounding title.

Avoid using quotes unless they’re relevant (and not just ripping them off from another publication). 

Quotes should only appear in an article if they add something new or interesting to an issue or subject matter being discussed; otherwise, they’re just filler material meant to pad out word count without adding much value overall.

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Keep Your Eye On The Clock. You Should Be Able To Sum Up What A Story Is About In Three Seconds – That’s The Time You Have To Capture Someone’s Attention Online

You should be able, to sum up, what a story is about in three seconds – that’s the time you have to capture someone’s attention online.

If you can’t say it in one sentence, then don’t write it as a headline.

The first sentence should tell the reader what your story is about, and where/when it took place. The last paragraph should summarize everything else for them so they don’t feel like they’ve missed anything. 

In between those two paragraphs, explain why this event was important or newsworthy enough for people to care about reading about it (try not to use cliches here).

If You’re Writing A List, Go All Out! Readers Love Lists Of 10, 20, 30, And Even 100 Things…!

  • Use a numbered list to break up the text.
  • Use a bulleted list to make the text easier to read.
  • Use a bulleted list to make the text more interesting.
  • Use a bulleted list to make the text more memorable.

Use a bulleted list so it’s easier for readers to skim through your content and find what they are looking for quickly and easily without spending too much time reading every single word on each page (which would be exhausting).  

There are also some psychological reasons why this works as well — but that’s another story entirely!

Don’t Use Words Like ‘terror’, ‘horror’, Or ‘tragedy’ Unless You’re Sure Of Their Relevance To The Story

The word “terror” is one of those words that has been overused so much in headlines and articles, that it no longer means anything. If you’re reading a news headline that says something along the lines of “Terror in Europe!”, what will your reaction be? 

Are you going to get scared? Are you going to be horrified at what’s happening in Europe? Or are you just going to think about how many times someone has used the word “terror” in a single article?

Use other words instead when possible, such as fear, horror, tragedy, and war. These terms tend not only to sound more interesting than terror but also add more detail about what exactly transpired.

And why people should care about this event as opposed to another similar one that may not have included any mention of terrorism whatsoever (yet still caused widespread panic).

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Remember, headlines are a great way to grab your reader’s attention and get them interested in the story. But they can also be an opportunity to manipulate or misinform readers if they’re not careful.

And don’t forget: you don’t have to be perfect! As long as you take care when writing headlines and keep these tips in mind, then you should be able to write some great ones!

Further Reading

The Power of Powerful Headlines: Discover the impact of compelling headlines in content marketing and how they can boost engagement and conversions.

Mastering the Art of Headline Writing: Learn essential techniques for crafting attention-grabbing headlines that drive traffic and attract readers to your content.

Example of Newspaper Headlines: Explore real-life examples of effective newspaper headlines to gain inspiration for your writing projects.


What are the key elements of a powerful headline?

A powerful headline should be concise, evoke curiosity, and clearly communicate the main benefit or takeaway of the content.

How can I make my headlines more engaging?

To make your headlines more engaging, try using action-oriented language, asking a thought-provoking question, or incorporating numbers and statistics.

Are there any headline writing tools available?

Yes, there are several online headline writing tools that can help you generate creative and effective headlines for your content.

Can headlines impact my search engine rankings?

Yes, well-optimized headlines can contribute to better search engine rankings by attracting more clicks and improving user engagement.

Should I A/B test my headlines?

Absolutely! A/B testing different headlines can provide valuable insights into what resonates best with your audience and optimize your content’s performance.