Before you can capture readers with your words and voice, you must write an effective title! Whether you’re writing magazine articles, blog posts, school essays, or a book – your best title makes readers drool with anticipation.
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In this guest post, Sara shares three ways to write effective titles for articles, blog posts, essays or any type of writing, really. To delve even further into the craft of writing nonfiction, read Writing for Story: Craft Secrets of Dramatic Nonfiction — because you can never read too much about writing!
“Fewer than 10 little words, but so many headaches,” says freelance writer Sara Bimmel. “Why is writing a title so difficult? It could be the pressure to hook your reader before the article has even begun; or it could be the fact that condensing an article with hundreds of words into just one snappy phrase is impossible!”
Writing Effective Titles for Magazine Articles
For me, the easy part of completing a writing assignment is always the actual writing. Finishing the article is never hard—the paragraphs just add up, and before I know it, I’ve gone past the intended word limit and need to cut some of what I’ve already written. No, the hard part, for me, is writing an effective lead.
Over the years, though, I’ve picked up a few tips that have led to winning headlines. Hopefully, they’ll be useful to you, too!
Remember your audience
If you’re trying to write a great title for a blog post, your process is going to be quite different from penning one for a newspaper. Keep the people who are likely to read your piece in mind, and consider what they want to hear. Newspaper readers might be skimming the whole paper, so they want clear, concise information. Tabloid readers want something inflammatory so that they’re tempted to read the article immediately. And general-interest Web sites—such as Yahoo!—try to cultivate headlines that are both informative and catchy.
Get even more specific
For example, I once wrote a blog post targeted mostly to other bloggers that was titled “Bloggers Should Never Get Paid.” The title was meant to incite controversy and invite debate, and it certainly motivated people to read the piece and talk about it!
Don’t use your first idea as your title
This is one of those rules that can sometimes be broken—after all, your first idea has the potential to be your best—but usually shouldn’t be. Just as you can almost always improve a sentence, you can almost always improve a title. When you have something in mind, try adding or subtracting words, swapping in synonyms, or completely rephrasing the whole thing. If you have a lot of time, grab people around you, provide them with several choices, and poll them about which title seems most interesting to them.
When you resist the urge to quickly dash something off, you greatly increase the odds that your title will be effective. My first title ideas are almost always yawners—”How to Improve Your Grades,” for example—but with a little thought, I can transform them into catchier lines, such as, “Land Straight A’s in Half the Time.”
Consider the magazine article, blog post, or story
Now that you’re nearing the end of this piece, would you agree that “How to Write Effective Article Titles” is a fitting headline? It might be a tad boring, but it gets the point across and communicates what the reader can expect. When you’re writing your own leads, it’s great to be clever and funny (humor is always welcome!), but your main priority should be coming up with a title that fits the story. By that, I mean that the title should go along with the piece in tone as well as in content. If someone else wrote your headline and it’s anything other than straightforward, the style inconsistency is likely to pop out at the reader.
Keep the whole picture in mind, and think of your article as a meal. The content is the main course and the closing line is the dessert, but your title is an enticing appetizer that should never be overlooked.
If you have any thoughts or questions about writing article titles, please comment below…
This post was contributed by Sara Bimmel, who writes about Halloween costumes at StarCostumes.com.