Once again, I’m offering information on how to write powerful headlines and subject lines, but this time I’m sharing skill-honing exercises from various sources around the web. If you have the time, try one of more of these exercises during your next writing assignment. If you have some downtime, you can practice on an old press release or other written piece.
1. The Tactical Rewrite
Previously, I cited rousing curiosity as a great tactic for writing a headline that grabs attention and sparks interest, but of course, that’s not the only approach you can use. Below are 11 other tactics.
Exercise: Try rewriting your headline several times, using another of these tactics below each time:
1. Announce the most intriguing fact from your message
2. State who will benefit and from what
3. Declare what’s new and/or improved about the product/service
4. Use words like “new,” “latest,” “announcing,” etc.
5. Ask a question that readers want answered
6. Remind readers of a problem/fear and indicate a solution (e.g., “Mistakes to avoid when…”)
7. Give a command
8. Include tie-in to current events, current issues or popular culture
9. Promise useful information
10. Announce a list (e.g., “Seven things to…”)
11. Give a cliché a new twist
2. Test Variations of the Same Headline/Subject Line
Another exercise is writing multiple variations of a subject line or headline. It may sound a little like exercise #1, but this time the variations include word choice as well as tactics. For example, is it better to use the term “two-thirds” or “67 percent”? Are there words or phrases that could be eliminated to provide more impact?
Exercise: Try out several variations of a headline, experimenting with word choice and arrangement.
3. Publication Inspiration
Experts suggest that your headlines and subject lines should read like newspapers or magazine headlines. In fact, Joan Stewart, the Publicity Hound, recommends that you visit a magazine rack with a notepad and a pen to write down the headlines on the covers that catch your attention.
Exercise: Follow Stewart’s advice and spend a couple of minutes jotting down those headlines. Once you’re back at your desk, try converting them to your own topic/industry. If you don’t have the time to go to a store, Stewart also recommends visiting Magazines.com.
Since you likely subscribe to publications that cover your field, you could limit the exercise by simply pulling out some of those old issues. However, accessing a wider scope of publications may be a better creativity boost. For example, how could a women’s magazine headline be converted for the realm of hi-tech widgets?
If you’re interested in more writing exercises, here’s some for email subject lines and formulas for blog headlines that you can try out. The value of writing exercises is that they help us hone our writing muscles, so put some time aside to tackle at least one of these suggestions.