The Headline Writing Process That Journalists Use

Professional writers, bloggers, media representatives, and journalists all learn their craft differently. They approach the writing process with a unique goal. And they often have a structure to work within. You’re familiar with the structure part of the writing process. When you write a list article or a press release, there’s a structure to the content that you have to work within.


However, the writing process itself and how you approach the content may vary. Journalists learn specific strategies and approaches to their writing process. And of course, one of the key components to any magazine or newspaper article (and for any online article as well) is to craft a compelling headline.

Now different media channels and outlets approach headline writing differently. For example, you’ll probably find that Huffington Post headlines are different than headlines in the New York Times. Yet, while the format of the headline may be different, the journalists and editors go through a similar headline writing process. Learning this process may help you not only feel more confident writing your own headlines, but yield better results.

What’s the Content About?

The first thing a journalist will do is think about how they’d summarize their story. It doesn’t matter if you’re talking about a puff piece or hard-hitting news (or your own press release). The summary is where the headline will come from. And to be honest, most headlines are concise summaries of the content. They aren’t fantastic pieces of prose, but they get the job done. The job is to motivate someone to read the article. So, the first step is to write a summary of your content.

How Can I Make This More Concise?

Looking at your summary, how can you make it more concise? Look to narrow your summary down to ten sentences or less. The fewer the words, the better. You may not be able to pare back on the first try. However, after a few attempts, you should be able to get your summary down to a handful of words that tell readers what your content is about.

Simplify the Language

Now taking a look at your headline, what words need to be simplified? How can you make sure that everyone who reads your headline knows what you’re talking about? That means no jargon and no complicated words. If someone has to open a dictionary to understand the words in your headline, it’s probably too complicated. Make it simple.

Check Your Verbs

Ideally, you’re going to have a verb or two in your headline. Identify your verb. Is it strong enough? Is there a better, stronger, verb that you can use? And are your verbs in the right tense? Make sure.

Finally, journalists always check their spelling and grammar. They don’t use spellcheck because it can miss things. Read your headline out loud. Have someone else read your headline. Make sure it says exactly what you want it to say.

That’s it. That’s the process that journalists use to write their headlines. It’s not fancy, but it works. Give it a try the next time you’re working on a headline for your content.

Call us today to speak to one of our PR specialists: 1-800-713-7278

Anthony Santiago is Director of Marketing at Newswire. With over a decade of experience in PR, he helps ensure that clients understand the value of brand messaging and reach.

Catch up on the rest of your content marketing news and strategy