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Titles and headings help make your writing engaging

How to write titles and headingsBy Mary Morel | August 2017

Journalists understand the power of the title in an online article. Titles are the first thing you read and they must engage your attention.

Take these examples from online newspapers on 18 August 2017.

Rare butterfly spotted in Scotland for the first time since 1884 (Read more)

How do you paint an eclipse? Work fast in the dark (Read more)

Now you can see what Donald Trump sees every time he opens Twitter (Read more)

I discovered that The Sydney Morning Herald has two different titles for its main articles. The first aims to get your attention so you click through, then the second one gives you more details.

‘She went white’: Mother’s terrifying discovery in kid’s toys
Deadly eastern brown snake found wrapped around Gold Coast child’s toys (Read more)

The company owned by Australia’s richest man is suing its workers
Cardboard box and recycling giant Visy launches lawsuit against its workers (Read more)

Business and marketing writers need to write clear titles

Business writers often write vague titles that give little indication of what the document is about. For example, a writer wanting approval for money to spend on an IT project, called his document:

IT uplift request

‘Uplift’ was management speak that I had not come across before. His title would have been catchier as:

IT project to improve online learning platform

I recommend that you write a draft title when you start writing and come back and refine it at the end.

A US experiment illustrates the importance of a title

Try reading the following paragraph and see if you can tell what it’s about.

The procedure is actually quite simple. First you arrange things into different groups depending on their makeup. Of course, one pile may be sufficient depending on how much there is to do. If you have to go somewhere else due to lack of facilities that is the next step, otherwise you are pretty well set. It is important not to overdo any particular endeavor. That is, it is better to do too few things at once than too many. In the short run this may not seem important, but complications from doing too many can easily arise. A mistake can be expensive as well. The manipulation of the appropriate mechanisms should be self-explanatory, and we need not dwell on it here. At first the whole procedure will seem complicated. Soon, however, it will become just another facet of life. It is difficult to foresee any end to the necessity for this task in the immediate future, but then one never can tell. After the procedure is completed one arranges the materials into different groups again. Then they can be put into their appropriate places. Eventually they will be used once more and the whole cycle will have to be repeated. However, that is part of life. (Bransford and Johnson 1972 p. 722)

Bransford and Johnson found that people who knew that the paragraph was about washing clothes before they read it, understood the paragraph much more easily than those who weren’t given the title.

Topic and content headings

Topic headings are usually template headings that you can’t alter and they are often one words, such as Summary, Background.

You can add content headings within a template to help tell your story and create attractive white space.

The type of content headings you will use will depend on whether you’re writing business or marketing copy. Whatever type of heading you use, they must be clear and compelling and entice the reader to click or read on.

Headings that promise a benefit

Many email marketing emails offer a benefit:

Register now and save $100
Lose weight in two weeks

Headings that inform

Headings that contain new information or tell people ‘how’ to do things can work well.

How to set your heading styles in Microsoft  Word
Five ways to make money while writing your book

Headings with magic words

Magic words, such as ‘free, ‘new’, introductory offer’ have the power to attract people in emails. Marketing guru Winston Marsh has a list of 12 magic words.

Here’s a product you’ll love

Headings with key words

If you’re writing a business document, key words act as signposts for the reader.

Use short, simple sentences (e-book on writing emails)

Headings that pose a question

Headings that pose a question can make the reader think.

What will you learn from this online course?
Do you shut the bathroom door when you’re alone?

Headings with a negative statement

Although most of your headings will be positive, negative headings can work occasionally to catch the reader’s attention.

Don’t leave booking until the last minute
Three writing mistakes to avoid

As with your titles, it’s worth scanning your headings when you’re editing to see if they all work.

 

 

 

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