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Before and After: How to Fix a Horrible Headline

Recently updated on November 11th, 2017 at 12:47 am

Every day, we are bombarded with content from blogs, newspapers, magazines, etc. With all of this content being shared, we have to be judicious about what to read and what to skip. But the thing that makes us want to read on more than any other part of an article is the headline. As readers, headlines are the first thing we notice. They grab our attention and determine whether or not we’re going to continue with the article.

If first impressions in everyday life are important, why should it be any different for headline writing? It’s important for writers to come up with catchy and intriguing headline ideas if they want their work to be read. And in the ever-growing world of social media, they also want that content to be shared, and shared often. Most people will read a headline. But if the headline isn’t captivating, very few will read beyond that.

Depending on where you look on the web, you’ll read different criteria for what makes for good headline writing ideas. But for simplicity, I’ll break it down into three basic components. Good headlines are:

  • clear
  • interesting
  • short (under 70 characters)

But alas, a good headline isn’t enough. The writer still has to deliver in the body. So don’t let your good content get wasted because of a bad headline. To make sure this doesn’t happen, write your headline first and build it around your creative writing prompt. After all, it’s the first thing your readers will see.

And, of course, no blog post would be complete without examples of bad headlines. I’ve included five of them, along with suggested fixes for each.

1. Republicans Turned Off by Size of Obama’s Package

Obama Headline









Yikes! This is a serious article from a college newspaper, so I’m hoping that making the reader blush uncomfortably was not the intended goal of the author. Instead, the following headline, free of innuendos and still interesting, is much better:

Republicans Balk at Obama’s Short-Term Stimulus

(taken from The New York Times)

2. Missippi’s Literacy Program Shows Improvement

Mississippi Headline









This one has an obvious misspelling…while promoting literacy of all things! How can anyone take the writer seriously when there’s a glaring error in the headline? This is evidence for the need of proofing and getting someone else to check your work. Here’s how it should’ve looked:

Mississippi’s Literacy Program Shows Improvement 

3. Chick Accuses Some of Her Male Colleagues of Sexism

Laura Chick Headline










An oldie, but a goodie. This headline wasn’t meant to be sexist, but a funny thing happened on the way to the print shop! This article is about the accusations of sexism levied by LA Councilwoman Laura Chick against her male colleagues. The author had good intentions, but inadvertently offending people before they could even begin the article probably wasn’t on the agenda. Again, proofing and attention to detail is imperative. Here’s how it should’ve been avoided:

Councilwoman Accuses Male Colleagues of Sexism

4. For Swing Voters, Tossup For President

Boring. Boring, boring, boring! This dull and slightly confusing headline, which states the very nature of swing voters, gives readers no reason to continue reading unless they’re new to the political process and want a 101 course on swing voting. Instead, let’s give readers a more in-depth analysis about why these voters are undecided between two starkly different platforms:

Why Swing Voters Remain Undecided About Obama vs. Romney

(taken from U.S. News & World Report)

5. Two Sisters Reunited After 18 years in Checkout Counter

Ahh! The age-old tale where heartwarming story happens; heartwarming story gets ruined by bad headline; heartwarming story doesn’t get read! Let’s remove the ambiguity of the sentence (because come on, they didn’t spend 18 years in the checkout counter) by taking the time to properly construct a headline. By simply shuffling a few words around, we can clarify the thought:

After 18 Years, Two Sisters Reunite…at the Checkout Counter

  • For more articles with catchy and interesting headlines, be sure to take a look at more of our posts on the NextDayFlyers blog. 



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