Headline Tip #15: Amuse, Don’t Confuse

by Wes Hanson on May 4, 2012

The confused mind says “no.”

Depending on your audience, client, and purpose, a dash of wit, a soupcon of wordplay can be just the thing to reel in your readers. Writing them usually involves more creativity and effort – and makes not just the reading more fun but the writing too.

But keeping it simple and direct is best most of the time, even for sales copy. Wordplay can be a thrill, but it’s a high wire act and it’s easy to fall off. It’s tiring to guess what something is supposed to be about. Humor is a tricky; what’s clever to you may well be irritating or obtuse to someone else. If you really want to be found and read and shared then you have to write for the someone elses of this world. Keep the cleverness for your personal blog or journal.

Word play, alliteration, or take-offs on familiar phrases or cliches can create some eye-catching and often amusing headlines. But don’t be too subtle. Get to the point: what happened or what are you promising?

A joke-y header or one-word title might not be descriptive but can still work if you add a subhead can explain your purpose.

Finally, on the matter of confusion, here are a few words about Twitter hashtags. A hashtag mark – # — put in front of a word or term in a tweet makes it searchable in Twitter. A search for #occupywallstreet, for example, would turn up every mention in the Twittersphere using that exact hashtag-denoted phrase.

Beware overdoing hashtags in your tweeted, or re-tweeted, headlines. Too many hashtags junk up a headline and make it look confusing, even spammy. If there is room, favor adding a hashtag to the end of your tweet instead of the middle of the headline itself.

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