This headline will destroy the world. NOW READ MY ARTICLE!

This headline will destroy the world. NOW READ MY ARTICLE!

No, it will not. It will never. But it will try to capture your attention.

We are so used to headlines like:

Is One World Trade Center really the tallest building in the West? The Verge

How Apple can stop Google from taking over the iPhone. Again. iMore

Five reasons Apple is doomed, doomed, doomed Computerworld

Or as an even more obvious example pointed out by Horace Dediu:

This is a false headline: Verizon iPhone sales tumble 33% – Apr. 18, 2013 CNN Money
With a perfect follow up 1.

Why am I picking headlines related to Apple? Because they are the most obvious examples and I am pretty sure this applies generally. My newspaper here in Germany often makes such lurid headlines, too.

If you really want to find a lot of this just very lurid headlines, just head over to the “accurately” named site:

The problem with headlines

or should I perhaps write:

Headlines are BROKEN, they can’t be fixed

and then piggyback and say they actually can be fixed? 2

First, what is the general consent of what a headline is supposed to do if you are a regular publisher

It is supposed to attract a reader so he will jump into the article and read it. Probably spend some time on the website so he might possibly click on an ad. I don’t think a publisher has a real interest to give you real information to perhaps save your time and give enough information to you so you don’t read the article. Please contact me, correct me in the comments, if I’m wrong. There are obviously exceptions.

What do you as a reader probably expect from a headline:

That it gives you enough information to figure out whether it’s worthwhile to read that article or not

A question:

Might it be possible that there are too many articles written where the actual data behind it not really justify writing a whole article about it? As an effect, you need a misleading over-exaggerating lurid headline to trap your readers into going into the article?

Headlines should theoretically give you a one line overview of the gist of the article. They should not give an exaggerated statement which is then to be dismantled in the actual article. That’s just a disservice to your readers.

Look at the headlines in this very article, look at the bold headline at the top: This headline will destroy the world. 3 This is the style headlines are written these days. A proper alternative headline would be:

Why headlines often are misleading and wasting your time

Although headlines starting with “why” are problematic, I am 100 % behind that headline. They are often misleading, I’m trying to explain here why they are and reading something that doesn’t give you any value is a waste of time. I think this headline fits. Put differently:

Because they aren’t summarizing the article anymore. They won’t give you the gist. They are so lurid, annoy people, and in the article itself calm the same people down again. But I’m repeating myself and probably had to many paragraphs where it isn’t needed. You can of course write an article about bad paragraphing.

I just want you as a writer to perhaps give your headline at least a second shot whether if it’s lurid or not. And if it’s lurid, please consider the option that your article wasn’t worth being written in the first place.

And you as a reader, please think about just not reading lurid articles. You could consider such a headline as an insult to your intelligence. 4

Now I am done. If you read through this point. Thank you. And think about which articles you want to read. I don’t know whether this article even was worth your time.

  1. If you haven’t heard of it, Horace Dediu answered to the question of why the headline is wrong first with an explanation, that quarterly sequential measures just don’t make sense and followed up really nicely with It’s like saying “Fire is cold” without adding “compared to the surface of the Sun”. (↩︎

  2. Sorry, I’ve got a bit angry there ↩︎

  3. The second part is to make clear it’s not meant serious ↩︎

  4. Oh boy, that sounds snobby ↩︎

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