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How to Write a Headline

A headline needs to be brief, pithy and tell your story. We needed a headline for a postcard about the killing of hundreds of Canada Geese in New York City. This list shows the evolution of the headline the artist developed.

Did You Know Your Taxes Are Being Used to Kill Wildlife

Your Taxes Are Being Used to Kill Wildlife

Your Taxes are Killing Wildlife

You’re Killing Wildlife with Your Taxes

NYC is Using Your Taxes to Kill Wildlife

NYC is Killing Wildlife with Your Taxes

Here is the evolution of the headline.

  • The original idea was to pique readers’ curiosity about the funding of the roundup and killing of Canada Geese in New York City, but it seems overly long and takes a while to get to the point. Also it doesn’t say who is doing the killing.
  • The second one was shorter, but also leaves out who is doing the killing.
  • The third is still shorter but may imply that the reader may somehow be to blame.
  • The fourth clearly blames the reader, which is not what we wanted.
  • The fifth says who is doing the killing and points out that it is being done with the reader’s tax money, just what we wanted to do.
  • The sixth changes the order to be even more closely link the city and the killing. The end of it emphasizes that they are using your tax dollars.

By the way, while the headline said “Wildlife” to catch attention, both the graphic and the text made it clear that we were talking about the annual roundup and slaughter of hundreds of geese in the city’s parks.

The message of this discussion is to (a) figure out exactly what you want your message to say and (b) get all parts of the message into the least number of words you can. And then edit. Edit. Edit. And edit again!

One writer told me that if you want really good examples of headlines, read the Daily News.

The results are worth it!

Cross-posted from Evidence Based Blog.