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Sep 10 / Nick James

Headlines: Entice readers, but be accurate, truthful and reasonable

Strong articles need strong headlines, and much of that involves accurately presenting the content of your article with a truthful and reasonable hook. We always encourage taking an engaging stance in order to provoke a strong reaction with readers, but that reaction can turn negative very quickly if your audience feels duped into clicking your article.

Use your headline to attract readers and give them an idea of what they’ll be reading. Don’t employ dirty tactics by combining a headline with content that doesn’t match.

Here are some examples of different types of headlines that can become problematic when they’re not applied properly. All of these heads are hypothetical.

L.A. Lakers Rumors: 5 Perfect Fits for Mike D’Antoni’s System

There’s a difference between speculation and rumor. If the headline claims there are rumors, the majority of the submission should be based on linked and cited reports from credible sources.

If you’re only speculating about some of the players the Lakers should pursue but don’t provide evidence that they’ve been linked to each other, that’s just speculation—which is OK if done correctly.

Peyton Manning Cements Status as Greatest NFL Player Ever

While Manning’s seven-touchdown performance in Week 1 was certainly impressive, it’s important to keep things in perspective and avoid getting carried away. Even if you wanted to argue that Manning is the greatest ever, a regular-season game is not going to be what seals the deal.

Hyperbolic headlines like this are a cheap way to attract readers. They only discredit your writing in the end.

Is Don Mattingly’s Handling of Yasiel Puig Good or Bad for Dodgers’ Chemistry?

Readers are expecting an answer to that question when they click on the article. If the article doesn’t take a firm stance, it gives the impression that you, the writer, aren’t quite sure how to answer your own question.

Now, you’re certainly free to discuss how Mattingly is handling Puig—or other topics—without taking a side. In that case, the headline should introduce the article as a discussion or evaluation rather than presenting a question.

San Francisco 49ers: Complete Breakdown and Analysis of 2013 Schedule

Is it really complete? The story under this headline should break down every game on the 49ers schedule. If it only addresses some of the games, it can’t be considered “complete.” You can easily mention in a headline that the focus will be on noteworthy or important games without suggesting every game will be taken into consideration.

Predicting Landing Spots for Each Remaining NBA Free Agent

Same principle applies here. The word “each” means you’re going to go over every free agent. If that’s the case, simply make it clear in the headline with “Top Remaining NBA Free Agents” or “Notable NBA Free Agents.”

5 Bold Predictions for Miami Heat’s Title Defense

Claiming LeBron James will win the MVP award is not a bold prediction; he’s won three of the past four MVPs. Claiming the Heat will make the playoffs is not a bold prediction; while nothing is guaranteed, it’s almost certainly going to happen. These are just predictions—and boring ones, at that.

A bold prediction would be Chris Bosh getting traded midseason, or the Heat not earning home court in the first round of the playoffs. These are both plausible enough to suggest yet surprising enough to qualify as bold.

Keep in mind that there’s a difference between a bold prediction and an implausible one, so make sure that none of your predictions circumvent reality.

Odds of Each MLB Division Leader Holding on for Playoff Spot

As explained in the B/R Stylebook:

Handicapping odds and (b) handicapping percentages are two different entities, and should be distinguished as such in headline and article text. Any article promising “odds” must deliver actual odds (e.g. 10-1), as opposed to percentage chances of winning (“9 percent”); any article promising “percentages” must deliver actual percentages.

Grading Liverpool Players in 1-0 Win over Manchester United

This needs to have actual grades for each Liverpool player who saw action. If it merely discusses how the players performed but doesn’t mention a specific grade, that’s analyzing—not grading.

Juan Mata: ‘I Won’t Be Leaving Chelsea FC’

If you’re going to use a direct quote, be sure to present it accurately in the headline and throughout. Nowhere in this Sky Sports report does Mata use the words in the headline. He only says he’s “happy here” at Chelsea. He certainly implies he won’t be leaving the club, but never outright says it—meaning the headline fails to accurately portray the story.

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Nick James is a Content Moderator at Bleacher Report, part of the Content Standards team.

  • Isaac Smith

    This is ironic… I read this article and forget that prospects haven’t played in the big leagues yet, making the very same mistake this article is preaching against. Ah well, such is life. Never hurts to be reminded of this.