The Art of Writing Headlines (Sucks)

Something Scoble wrote about reminded me of being an editor: the more controversial a headline is, the more likely people are to read it. I can remember BYTE's "Is Unix Dead?" cover story and the controversy it stirred up a decade ago -- and it wasn't even a statement: it was a question. Headlines are largely written not by the authors of magazine stories, but by their editors -- copy editors, section editors, managing editors, and sometimes even the capital-E Editor. You'd think this didn't make any sense, but in the world of editorial it does: the people who wrote a story are often too close to a subject to write a succinct headline. And there's an art to a good headline. "Forty-two Ways to Lose Weight" is a stronger headline than "Weight-Loss Techniques" but not as strong as "Oh My God You're Overweight and About To Die!" It's human nature that most people gravitate to controversy (or perception of controversy) and also gravitate to "quick hits" -- things that don't require a lot of thought and promise rapid return.

So it's no surprise that words like "sucks" in a headline drives up Memeorandum hits.

Comments (1)

  1. PatriotB says:

    Too bad the author of the article is the always one who gets the blame for stupid/poor headlines.

    ZDNet News’s headlines are the worst. Many articles have lame puns in the titles (often introducing false/bad connotations in the process). Those types of headlines must be confusing for non-native English speakers, too.

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