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How To Make The Reader Read On

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How To Make The Reader Read On

One of the most fun parts of being an editor is coming up with the headline and standfirst for a story. (Or head and sell, H1 and H2 or whatever different slang each and every publication seems to call them…) It’s the chance to be be a little bit playful, or dramatic. The job of the “furniture” is, after all, to make the reader read on.

When I was editing the Independent on Sunday, that was my Saturday afternoon job, to go through the paper from front to back and tweak the headlines. There had to be range, any too similar had to be changed and any slightly worthy story enlivened by (in most instances) a pun.
It’s tasks like enticing an audience with a killer headline that really exercise the brain and I think it is a skill that gets better the more you do it – and if the headline isn’t grabby, the story is unlikely to get much attention. This is doubly true online and we work on this a lot at the Telegraph since a lot of food, drink and restaurant content is digital first (and sometimes digital only).
It’s the same skill that makes a press release stand out. I’m hardly the first to make the point but without considering how your information might appear as editorial, it’s far less likely to get picked up. We used to have competitions at a magazine I worked at early in my career – the best headline of the month won a prize. Something for PR agencies to consider – some people’s brains are particularly good that way. 
And – at the time of writing – a story due to go on the Telegraph website today about a dinner featuring invasive species has the headline “Parakeet for dinner?” I hope that would make anyone read on…

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