A great headline can make all the difference when a reader is deciding whether to give your newsletter his or her full attention. Your reader's eye tends to land on the headlines in your newsletter before anything else, and in doing this, forms a first impression of your newsletter.
A good headline editor knows the importance of brevity. Readers don't have a lot of patience when reading headlines. Instead, they want to know in an instant what the article is about, and a long drawn out headline will lose them before they even give the main text a chance. A well-written headline is specific, strong, simple, and active.
Headlines are used by people skimming your newsletter to make a decision--is this article worth my time? So, a good headline helps your reader make that decision as quickly as possible, giving enough information to indicate what the article is about, while remaining short, pithy, and pointed enough to be read in a single thought. Your ultimate goal should be to write a headline that is going to turn headline skimmers into readers.
There are a few ways to accomplish this. One elementary technique is to simply leave off short articles like "a" and "the" from your headlines. You can also leave off most punctuation, especially at the end, unless a question mark is need for clarification. You can substitute the ampersand (&) or a comma for the word "and" as well.
Headlines usually are written in the present tense and use the active voice. It is good to develop this as a standard for your newsletter, not only for consistency, but also because this is what readers are used to, as this is the standard in the publishing industry. Using the active voice is more concise, and the present tense gives a feeling of immediacy. For example, instead of "City Council Voted to Eliminate Sales Tax on Food," write a headline that says, "Council Votes to Eliminate Food Sales Tax." If you are writing about an event in the future, you can add the word "to" instead of "will" or "going to" to indicate this. For example, "Police to Provide Security at Weekend Games." You should also write headlines in the positive instead of the negative. For example, instead of "No Action Taken on Zoning Questions," write "Council Declines to Rule on Zoning Questions."
Sometimes, you need to indicate a thought or idea in a headline, but find that you do not have adequate space for a longer headline. In these cases, try to find synonyms that can be substituted for longer words. You may end up using words that you won't find in the article itself, but are great for conveying the idea of the article, while conserving space in the headline area. For example, use "top" instead of "highest," use "bid" instead of "campaign," and use "site" instead of "location."
It is an inevitable fact that some of your readers will only read the headlines of some articles, not the text itself. Because of this, you have a responsibility to ensure that your headlines are not misleading or confusing. While you are trying to stay as succinct as possible, be sure not to edit your headlines too sharply so that the meaning gets lost.
The headline of your article should also have the same tone as your article. If your article is a fun review of a comical play, write a clever and fun headline. If it headlines an article on global warming, it should be written in a more serious tone.