My 12th grade English teacher Mr. Berg loved the subject. He was young, enthusiastic and determined his students would love writing as much as he did.
To be honest, I only half listened as he talked on and on about literary techniques. I was pretty sure I was never going to find a use for onomatopoeias, allusions, alliterations and the less common chunking. Well I was wrong.
In the ongoing quest to find a way to break through the clutter on social media or craft a subject line which is sure to get my next email opened I often find myself turning to one of these literary techniques.
So if it has been a few years since English class, here is a quick refresher to improve your next headline.
Crash, Boom Pow. These words which describe sounds capture attention because they generate an auditory sound or memory in a reader’s head. They usually convey a sense of action and pair well with an exclamation point. Use this style sparingly or you look as if you are shouting all the time. Think about it this way, a loud crash will make you turn your head, but a constant drum beat becomes background noise so reserve this style for big impact events, stories and updates.
If you are up on pop culture, allusions are perhaps one of the easiest ways to write fun, quirky headlines. Think about lyrics from popular songs, or commercial catch phrases which can relate to your industry. Here a few examples:
- A pet store might use “Who let the dogs out? We Did! It is hard to read the headline and not hear the Baha Men singing in your head.
- A nonprofit which helps rebuild damaged homes or a construction company might decide to transform this boring subject line “October Newsletter” into “We came in with a wrecking ball”
The allusions only work if your audience gets the pop culture reference, so be careful to use references which your audience will recognize. If you are targeting seniors they might recognize “Where’s the Beef?” but a millennial probably won’t get the joke. Conversely Kanye’s “Imma let yo finish” would be be a great attention grabber for a clothing store targeting teens, but would simply look like a typo to older customers.
Today’s blog post title is an example of an alliteration. With this technique you grab attention with words that all start with the same letter. Using the same initial letter creates a memorable rhythm which catches attention because it is more interesting then the vast majority of what people see in their inbox each day.
It takes a little more flexing of the brain muscles and the help of a thesaurus to come up with synonyms, but it can be really fun.
Start the process with a simple headline like “Winter Soup Recipes.” Pick one of the words as your starting point and rewrite the headline with words which all start with the same letter. So in this case, you might end up with one of the following:
- Wonderful Winter Warmers or just Winter Warmers
- Sensational Seasonal Soups or Savory Soup Suppers
- Or start with a synonym for soup and you might end up with Bountiful Bisque and Bouillon
At some point in our life we learned to “chunk things together” to help us remember them. It is actually a psychological concept for grouping things together for better and quicker memory absorption. Think about a recent trip to the grocery store. If you just needed a few items you might have found yourself repeating, milk, eggs and bread in your head a few times to remember to buy these items.
You can use the technique in two ways. The first is to put things which belong together in the title. For example, a power company warning about being prepared for the service interruptions possible with winter storms might use some like: Severe storms, frozen pipes and power outages ahead.
Another strategy is to bring in something which doesn’t really fit. The fact that one piece seems out of place will also capture a reader. For example “Chocolate, Wine and Santa.” While chocolate and wine go together, Santa does seem a bit out of place. Curious readers will try to figure out how he fits.
Spend Time on Your Headlines
I once read that good copy writers will actually spend as much time on their headline as they do on the rest of the article, blog or newsletter. Hopefully by incorporating these techniques, you can write a headline in slightly less time.
Need more tips? Grab a copy of our new headline writing guide.