The title you choose will make or break your piece—it is the most important part, because it is the only element your reader will definitely read. He scans it to find out if he’s interested in what follows. This makes it an ambassador for your content: it must accurately and appealingly represent your content. An interesting article with an uninteresting title will not be read, but an uninteresting article with an interesting title will at least be scanned. So spend an appropriate amount of time writing an interesting one. I usually agonize over my titles for 15 minutes or more. I’ll start a piece by writing down numerous title ideas and refining them into a shortlist before picking one. And then I’ll repeat the process again when I’ve finished writing, because I in – variably end up thinking my previous effort sucked. Here are the principles I use to reduce the suckiness as much as I can:–
A. Longer titles convey more information. Shorter titles convey their information more quickly. So there’s a standoff between the two. Your title should contain enough information to accurately represent your content; little enough to represent it engagingly. As a rule of thumb, ten words is a good figure to aim for. But rather than agonize over length, make every word count.
B. Your premise is a good starting point for your title. It contains at least the essence of your content, if not yet in the most enticing form. You can gauge how enticing it is pretty accurately with the “So What” Test: read your title aloud, imagining you’re a reader.
Now, ask yourself: so what? If you’re left shrugging —“so what indeed?”—then your title needs work. This is okay; you can use the shine headline formula to improve it:–
1. Specificity. Specificity is interesting. Facts and figures, names and events, funny details—these make a title stronger.
2. Helpfulness. Your title must say something that implies how useful your piece will be to your reader: how it will give him some information he needs, or solve some problem he has, or satisfy some itch he wants scratching.
3. Immediacy. The other four elements will give your reader a good sense that he should check out your piece—but not necessarily now. For that, you need urgency—which is most easily found in the form of something that’ll arouse his curiosity.
4. Newsorthiness. If you aren’t saying something new, something your reader hasn’t head before, then why would he bother reading your piece? Right?
5. Entertainment value. Readers—especially online —will not be bored. Even for serious topics, making your piece enjoyable to read is a good idea. Controversy is particularly entertaining.
For example, imagine you’re writing a piece on how to play the ultimate poker game. The first title below implies some helpfulness, but doesn’t differentiate itself, so it’s not newsworthy. If we add curiosity and benefits we increase the immediacy; mentioning key details and calling out the reader makes it more specific:–
i. How To Play The Ultimate Poker Game
ii. Texas Holdem Players: 5 Pro Secrets for Trashing Your Friends