Headline Tips

A friend of mine recently asked if I have any tips for writing headlines. I’d never stopped to write any of them down. But here’s my incomplete list of headline tips. Like all the advice on this blog, these tips are only sometimes true. Sometimes they will help you write great lines. And sometimes they will be wrong and lead you down paths of lameness. But most of the time, they’ll be mostly true.

  1. You’ll write 100 headlines for every one worth keeping.
  2. Sometimes great body copy can come from the 99 lines that you threw out.
  3. You can make your line stronger by removing every word that’s not absolutely necessary.
  4. If you have an unusual visual, go for a straight-forward line. If you have a straight-forward visual, put as much character and personality in your line as you can.
  5. Finally, we should all stop writing headlines that begin with “Finally,”
  6. Avoid the “It’s like a (blank) for your (blank)” formula. This has been done to death.
  7. Take inspiration from the Communication Arts Advertising Annuals. Over a decade later, I still think the 1999 and 2000 issues have the best collection of headlines.
  8. Headlines are often easier to write when you have a visual in mind – or better yet, a specific photo or illustration tacked to your wall.
  9. Don’t believe the platitude that negative words like “not” and “don’t” should be avoided.
  10. Write the way people talk. Not the way companies or mission statements want people to talk.
  11. Puns are not punny. See?
  12. If you’re not having fun writing, you’re not in the right job.


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