Chapter 7Headlines

Successful headlines get inside the minds of readers and have one or more of these five elements:

  1. Surprise
  2. What’s at Stake
  3. Names That Make News
  4. Conflict
  5. Conflict Resolution

Every well-reported story has these elements, so it makes sense that a successful headline delivers the essence of the surprise. The more surprising the combination of words, especially the first four, the easier it is for readers to recognize news. When readers see a combination of words they can’t remember seeing before, they’re more willing to be enticed. A headline with none of these elements risks having the fewest readers.

Writing headlines must be as much an exercise of skill and judgment as any four-paragraph lead. The best are graceful, precise ...

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