How to write headlines that sizzle

It’s hard enough to write the perfect headline for online stories, but it’s even harder to avoid recycling news clichés. And now that the Web 2.0 world has given readers a space to critique news writing, the pressure is on even more.


Every reporter and media manager should take a look at Kill The Cliché, if only to avoid tired phrases that only journalists perpetuate. Hall of famers like “officials say,” “allegedly,” and “death toll” are tracked and tallied to illustrate how clearly overused some of these terms are. The site also tracks some of the top cliché-writing journalists at several major newspapers (The Boston Globe, New York Times, USA Today, Washington Post, Financial Times and Los Angeles Times). Jill Drew of the Washington Post leads the pack with an astounding 187 total clichés.

Trevor Crook has sage advice for creating great headlines, especially in his posts 8 Different Types of Headlines Which Sell and Headlines Suck!… 12 Kick Ass Rules To Creating Headlines Which Sell. His advice, in a nutshell, is to create attention-grabbing headlines that are engaging, but not annoying.

One of the best pieces of advice for creating headlines and nut grafs is to simply tell what the story is about aloud to another person. In that same vein, One Sentence asks its users to submit true stories that are — you guessed it — one sentence long. The site is great for inspiring encapsulation or abbreviated anecdotes.

Additional headline-writing resources can be found at ACES’ website. For inspiration rather than education, pick up a copy of Headless Body in Topless Bar, a very funny and captivating collection of headlines from The New York Post.