In this edition

Quote of the month

‘What we’ve got here is failure to communicate.’

— The Captain to prisoner Luke (played by Paul Newman, above) after a thwarted escape attempt in the film Cool Hand Luke (1967)

Surf Club

How scannable is the content on your website?

Nano Content Scanner tells you for free.

Just type in a URL and it will show you the first 11 characters of each element on the page—menu labels, page titles, lists, headings, paragraphs, link text…

Imagine that’s all people see.

Is it meaningful?

Welcome to our October 2013 newsletter: Writing headlines and headings
A headline or heading can draw the reader in to read more or send them elsewhere. What matters is that they find what they’re looking for. Share your top headlines/headings with us on Facebook, Twitter or email us.
Regards from the @EconnectTeam:

Meaningful headings – 6 benefits

By Mary O’Callaghan

Well written, informative headings have many benefits for the reader:

  • They inform you about the contents of the subsequent section.
  • They help you navigate the document and allow you to quickly find a section of interest.
  • They break the text into manageable chunks so that you are not confronted with a ‘wall’ of text.
  • The white space they create makes the document less dense and more readable.
  • They can smooth the transition between sections.

They also have a benefit for the writer:

  • They help you to arrange your thoughts.

Messages as headings

By Mary O’Callaghan

You can emphasise important messages by stating them as headings. They will stand out rather than being buried in the text.

In this way, people who read only the headings still get a good sense of the important messages.

We used important research findings as headings in our summary of the technical Northern Australia science review (2009).

For each of the 29 chapters, we wrote a 2-page, plain-English summary.

We worked closely with the authors to craft the headings—word choice, emphasis, tone and accuracy are all important things to consider.

Balancing brevity and usefulness also required some trade-offs.

Chapter 1 was about the amount of water ‘available’ in northern Australia—a contentious topic. Here are the headings:

  • A lot of rain but highly variable from year to year and highly seasonal
  • No water is going to waste
  • Storing surface water for the dry season is hard to do
  • Dry-season water supplies need to come from underground storages
  • Understanding how groundwater moves is critical
  • The future is likely to be drier

By reading just these headings, I hope you’ve been able to get a good sense of the research findings.

Here is an extract from Chapter 1:

Extract of the chapter on water resources shoeing key messages as headings

Sub-headings as scaffolding

By Tom Dixon

Sub-headings not only guide your reader, they’re great for planning your writing, too, especially if it’s a long feature article.

When I’m planning and structuring an article, I write out the sub-headings to help me clarify my thoughts. They act as a scaffold, providing a clear structure and direction.

I’ll quite often remove half of my sub-headings after I’ve written the article.

Like scaffolding on a building, you should be able to strip them away and have the structure remain intact.

Whether they make it to the final draft or not, I find that having sub-headings makes it easier to structure/restructure an article and stay on message in each section. 


Compelling news headlines

By Alison Binney

To write a news headline that makes people want to know more, I use one of 2 approaches.

1. Leave out the 2 Ws and the H

Some of the most memorable headlines are the ones that tell you who and/or what. To find out why, where and how, you have to read on.

Some examples:

  • Titanic sinks (London Herald, 16 April 1912)
  • Hitler dead (News Chronicle, 2 May 1945)
  • The war is over (The Washington Daily News, 14 August, 1945)
  • President Kennedy assassinated (Boston Herald, 23 November 1963)
  • Men walk on moon (The New York Times, 21 July 1969)
  • Diana dead (Daily News, 31 August 1997)
  • War on America (The Daily Telegraph, 12 September 2001)
  • Large Hadron Collider – Live! (The Guardian, 30 March 2010)


2. Let the horse say it

Why wait for the second or third paragraph to use a great quote when you can use it in the headline? Especially if the person you are quoting is a prominent figure.

Some examples:

I wrote this headline on a media release:

  • Fund Australia’s needs, not just students’ choices: Chief Scientist

Here are 3 ways it was reworked by the media:

Have a go yourself at rewriting a few headlines using the who and the what, or a quote.

Try this one from The Guardian: Is the Large Hadron Collider worth its massive price tag?

I would rewrite it simply as: What cost ‘God particle’?

Mary suggests: Hunting the Higgs boson – a luxury we can’t afford?

Post your suggestions to our Facebook page.

Web headings front-loaded

By Sarah Cole

On the web, the first 2 words of your heading might be all you get to grab a reader’s attention.

Studies show that we typically don’t ‘read’ web pages—we scan in an F-shaped pattern, reading the page title across the top, then moving our eyes down the left-hand side of the page, glancing rightwards to read headings and hyperlinks.

The best headings, therefore, are ‘front-loaded’ with descriptive information—information-carrying words. ‘Pearls of clarity’, as Jakob Nielsen describes them.

To front-load headings (and the same applies to lists):

  • put key words at the beginning
  • use strong nouns
  • be informative—tell people what they’re going to get
  • keep it ultra-short—sometimes one word is all you need
  • use simple language

Steer clear of:

  • ‘the’, ‘a’, ‘our’, ‘about’. For example: Our objectives, The latest news, About applying for
  • weak verbs at the beginning. For example: Find out about…, Read our…, Make sure you
  • wordplay and puns. People won’t type puns or wordplay into a search engine.
  • jargon or acronyms. For example: TFN declaration

These headings, from the Queensland Government’s web page about environment monitoring, do a good job:

I would tweak them slightly:

  • Air quality
  • Storm tides
  • Water quality
  • Waves
  • Wetlands

Tweet us the best and worst headings you’ve seen. @EconnectTeam