From our archives and still extremely important:
The headline is the most important part of any communication, either in print or digital format, because if it does not catch the attention of readers, if they don't see how the headline will benefit or be of use to them, they won't read anything else. Because of this, it is vitally important that you take time to write clear and honest headlines.
I read some time ago was a very sad illustration of why clarity and honesty is important in two headlines about the same event. I often skim a number of online news sources and while doing that this morning read this headline:
Bihar govt suspects conspiracy behind mid-day meal tragedy
from DNA, an Indian newspaper
It didn't make much sense to me, I had no context for it, and I had little interest to read the article.
Then I skimmed through another list of headlines and read this:
Contaminated school meal kills 25 Indian children
I was gripped by the tragedy and read the article. I realized that in the church we deal with issues of eternal destiny, life, and death in all of the programs and events we provide--but it's easy to forget that and to become vague and lazy with our words. Below are some tips on what we can learn from this sad tragedy of children dying to help us be more effective as we write headlines for our church communications.
Clarity and honesty made all the difference
In the first example, the key problem is the phrase "mid-day meal tragedy."
What does that mean? "Tragedy" is a vague word today, because it has been over-used. Tragedy, in the context of a meal, can mean anything from a tummy ache to someone choking on food items, to poison, to a food-born bacterial sickness. Combined with the word "conspiracy" another over-used word that has become trivialized from over and mis-use, the reader has little reason to read the article.
The second headline in contrast is extremely clear because it defines the "tragedy."
"Meal kills 25 children" that is a tragedy--and I wanted to know how that happened.
Don't assume people know the background or context of what you write about
One might argue that the second headline assumed people already knew what happened, but that assumption itself is always a mistake in any writing. You can NEVER assume people have read what was previously written or that they will read articles in the order you write them. Because of the way search engines present material in the digital world, readers can jump to any article written, at any time, about any topic, and unless you are clear what you are referring to, they may have no context for what they are reading.
Printed material presents the same challenge. People may not have gotten the bulletin, newsletter, flyer or postcard you created that gave the necessary background to understand your current topic. Or they didn't read all of it to get to the part where you set up what is coming next. Or they put it into the "to be read later" pile and it got buried.
In all instances either print or online, you need a brief intro and bottom links or references to what went before. However, even if you give these, you cannot allow your headline to assume prior reading about the events.
Practical application for when your write church communication headlines
NEVER use vague, rah-rah statements such as:
Save this date!
Most fun you'll have this summer--don't miss out!
Be clear and always clarify what the event is about and who it is for.
On August 2nd the Men's Ministry will take part in our FREE Parking Lot Auto Repair Day
Youth trip to Magic Mountain--admission free if you bring two friends
Be honest about either what happened or why something is important
Don't substitute rah,rah, general invitations for people to come to events in your announcements about activities. Don't leave out or downplay either benefits or consequences of your activities like the following examples:
Marriage enrichment seminar will tackle challenging topics
Small groups are starting up--don't miss out!
Instead, honestly tell people what topics you will cover and what they can expect. Of course your events will have more, but don't think you are being comprehensive by being vague. Pick one comprehensive topic you know is true about the event or ministry and the article itself can elaborate, as these examples illustrate:
Why pornography can destroy a marriage and how to conquer it
Does the Bible really apply to everyday life? Join a small group and talk about it.
How to know if your headlines are successful
Writing effective headlines is extremely difficult, but it's easy to know if they worked or not.
Online, how many people read your article, blog or announcement? (all website software can give you a count)
In print, how many people show up to the event? (you do have to repeat advertisements, just one mention won't get many people to anything)
If the answers to either of these questions are less than what you want--keep working on your headlines--you've got activities and ministries that can change the eternal destiny of people--it's worth the effort.