When writing copy, especially for the attention-deficit ‘netizens’ of cyberspace, a catchy headline is essential. But sometimes they are noticeable for all the wrong reasons.
Sometimes it’s mangled syntax that leads to the unintentional humour:
- Military Tightens Controls on Gay Discharges (Reuters News Agency)
- Court to Try Shooting Defendant (Deseret News, Salt Lake City)
- Woman Knocks Down Pope at Mass; Christmas Celebrations Begin (CNN website)
- Jimmy Carter’s Home Town Excited by his Burial Plans (Associated Press)
- Northfield Plans to Plan Strategic Plan (Northfield local news)
Some lead you to suspect a Copy Editor with a wicked sense of Humour:
- Marijuana Issue Sent to Joint Committee (Toronto Star)
- Great Tits Cope Well with Warming (BBC website)
- Crack Found in Man’s Buttocks (Fox News)
- Midget Sues Grocer over Belittling Remarks (Chicago Sun Times)
Some of the best, that circulate today on social media sites are unfortunately not genuine, and have been passed around at least since 1987, probably much longer:
- Miners Refuse to Work After Death
- Something Went Wrong in Plane Crash Say Experts
- Red Tape Holds Up New Bridge
- Study of Obesity Seeks Larger Test Group
Brian Clark of CopyBlogger who is an expert on writing magnetic headlines writes:
“Every element of compelling copy has just one purpose – to get the next line read. If readers stop at the headline, you’re already dead in the water.”
If you are writing blog posts or articles, here are ways to make your headlines memorable and eye-catching without being unintentionally funny.
1. Be brief, but be clear
Cut any unnecessary words, but watch out for unintentional double entendre or mangled grammar:
- Girls’ Schools Still Offer Something Special – Head (Gloucester Echo)
2. Don’t tell too much of the story
The heading needs to give the reader an idea what the post or article is about, but just enough to make reading it irresistible – make sure you give them a reason to read further:
- Healthy Diet Lowers Death Risk for Women (Washington Post) OK – bye!
3. Remember the five W’s of journalism – Who What, Where, When, Why (and How)
For the headline, consider which of these is the most important piece of information for your reader.
- Playwright Tells Touching Story of Child Abuse (Atlanta Journal Constitution)
4. Make it clear how the reader will benefit from reading the article
- Utah Poison Control Center Reminds Everyone Not to Take Poison (Utah Poison Control Center) – Gosh! Just in time!
Other ways to get your headlines noticed are to make them:
- Hard to believe
- Refer to a celebrity
Of course, these aren’t hard and fast rules, you’re free to disregard them, and that can be extremely effective too. Do you have any favourite examples of hilarious or unintentionally memorable headlines? Or particularly clever examples? We’d love to hear them. Share them with us in the comments below.