How to write headlines

The art of writing headlines can be tricky to master and, while it will ultimately be the journalist’s job to decide what that is, your press release should still have a well thought-out headline. Having worked in the newspaper industry for many years, and as a sub-editor alongside much more seasoned sub-editors, I know first-hand just how much time and effort even the professionals have to put into creating a short, snappy headline!headlines

The skill is in getting the point across in the minimal amount of words – something that will make you want to read the article/release etc. beneath and not pass it over. Great headline-writing can take years to master and still, the professionals can get stumped, so don’t be too hard on yourself if you find it difficult.

The main thing is to be aware of its importance and to put a certain amount of effort into your headline, rather than leaving it until the very end to write and then just going with the first thing that comes into your head…

Of course, headlines matter not only in press releases, but also in blogs, email newsletters and other marketing content. Lots of the same tips apply and with blogs, things like putting numbers, list headlines and so on can get people clicking in to read. However, continuing on with my press release writing series, I’m focusing on this particular area for the moment.

Top tips for writing a headline:

– Keep it short and to the point

– Make sure it accurately summarises the content of your press release

– Don’t just repeat the top line of your release – be original

– Use present tense and active voice

– Convey a sense of urgency

– Be unique

– Cut the jargon – use Plain English

– Avoid puns where possible … (Unless you have a really good one and it fits the content below. Seasoned journalists have seen them all…)

– Only use Caps where strictly necessary (e.g. names)Make sure it’s useful and interesting (but the story should be anyway, so this will be reflected in the headline)

Writing sub-headings

It should be pointed out that the sub-heading beneath your press release headline should also take these points into account, although it can be slightly longer than the main headline. It adds a little extra detail but again, shouldn’t just repeat what’s said on the opening lines of the release. It’s not always necessary to add this in by the way – as long as you have a headline you’ll be fine, so if you don’t want the extra challenge, just go with that!

In terms of length, keep your sub-heading to a single line beneath the headline where possible. When I was a sub-editor we wrote headlines and stand-firsts (the explainer beneath a headline on articles) directly onto pages already made up, so we could see how much space we had to fill. That can be helpful (or create even more headaches!) but as you won’t know the space allocated to your content in whatever publication you’re sending it to, just try to be as concise as possible.

Final tip! 

Read newspaper headlines to get a sense of how they’re constructed, and see how different publications favour certain styles. You may read them every day, but take a few minutes to really properly study them. Or, read an article and conceal the headline. Try writing what you think it should be and then compare it with what the paper actually used.

For blogs, think of the ones that get you clicking in to read. What makes them stand out? Why do they appeal to you?

Happy headline-writing!

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