Thursday, October 7, 2010

You Had Me at Your Headline

Today, you get my musings on word choice, particularly as it applies to the most feared beast  in the world of copywriting—the headline. You will be made or broken when you face this dreaded foe...

I'm a firm believer in the power of words. Of course I am. I write for a living. I write in my spare time. I teach writing. I know through much experience that words matter. They can make you, or they can break you.

And that's why I hate writing headlines.

Yup. They're a pain. It's hard to get the right balance of cleverness, punch, and clarity. If you get to write your own stuff and it's cheeky, like my blog, you can add a little humor and pop. If you have to write for a more staid, traditional market, like my non-profit employer, you have to be more serious and to-the-point, without being trite.

That's why I really hate writing headlines on the job.

But because it is such a challenge to write a headline that works, I notice them everywhere and think about them all the time. Well, I think of them when I read them. But anyway, here are a few headlines I found online today, along with some thoughts about why I like them. Or wisecrack comments that have nothing to do with writing, but that I think are funny. It's me, the Chipper Muse. You'll get both!

For fun headlines, go to Geekologie (, the "geek blog dedicated to the scientific study of gadgets, gizmos, and awesome." Just tell me you don't want to race right over there to click on these articles:
  • What Your Facebook Picture Says About You.  Now you're worried about it, aren't you? Of course you are. Check it out. It even has a chart, so you can see how many degrees your head can tilt before it indicates that you're unstable.
  • Of Course There Is: Sexy Chewbacca Costume.  Admit it. It creeps you out. But you still want to see the picture.
  • Jessica Alba Says She Has Cellulite.  Okay, I confess, I like this one because I'm female and I'm jealous. Take that, sexy Hollywood star who gets paid to work out every day while I sit at a computer typing and increasing my own cellulite. I hate you, and I'm going home now.
Now, for dismal headline writing, let's turn to my old friend, I know this may seem unfair. After all, they are a news site, and they have to be serious, while Geekologie gets to act like the written version of The Big Bang Theory. But that said, MSNBC routinely comes up with headlines that are such gobbledygook that I suspect monkeys are not only doing the typing, but doing the editing too. Here's a few samples from today:
  • Report: Condoms clog Games village drains.  So, maybe you got hooked on the word condoms. Snigger all you must, Ren and Stimpy. I get it. But I can't help but be (a) disgusted by the idea so that I don't want to read about it, and (b) shocked that someone spent time doing a report on it. Whatever happened to book reports? Or other, more normal reports?
  • Suffering from buyer's remorse? E-mail us!  This isn't even a headline. It's not a story. It's a call to depressed, lonely people to write to MSNBC instead of writing the next Unabomber Manifesto. A kind service, no doubt. But not a headline, even though it is masquerading as one.
  • Study of gay parents shows kids are well adjusted.  Classic MSNBC sloppy writing. Shouldn't we call it a study of gay families? If not, it's only a study about parents and not the kids. You can't know how well adjusted the kids are, unless you have studied them.
By the way, I fully intended to comment on the Tulsa World's current headlines, since today is the Tulsa Bloggers Meetup. But I can't, because the Tulsa World's website is so slow that I can't get it to come up on my computer. I guess they don't want the Chipper Muse reading their articles. They are afraid, very, very afraid.

Or their IT guy went to lunch early today, I'm not sure which.

Anyway, what do you think about headlines? Have you seen any you thought were hilariously demented? Pathetically written? Or possibly even brilliant? Let me know. I crave your comments. They give me fodder to write more for you.

Ciao for now!

~The Chipper Muse~

Copyright (c) 2010 by Michele Chiappetta. All rights reserved.


  1. Loved meeting you at today's Oklahoma Bloggers Meeting. Am now cracking up over here about your posts. And yes, I too had to see the Sexy Chewbacca costume. It's just so wrong.

  2. Hey now.. be nice to IT guys..

  3. Thanks, Chrissie. Me too! And Mark...Well, I'm nice to some IT guys anyway.


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