How Can We Learn to Write Headlines Like Slate’s?

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09/11/2009 4:13 PM |

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Here at The Measure, we are engaged in a constant, life-or-death struggle to make our headlines more “click-able”, for people who stumble upon them on our homepage, or Twitter, or a shop window or what have you.

Mostly we just ask ourselves, “What Would the Editors of Slate Do?”, because at Slate they’re very good at compressing their articles into glib conversation-starter headlines. Have you noticed this, on Slate, that you’re always getting tricked into reading articles about things you don’t care about? How do they do this?

Mostly by asking semi-rhetorical questions. You always click on a headline that’s a question, because all of a sudden you really want to know the answer. It’s human nature, which is science.

But how did Slate learn this secret of click-able headline writing?

Well, after an exhaustive scientific study of fishing through my own fuzzy recollections, I have concluded that Slate learned how to write headlines by noting the evergreen popularity of their advice column Dear Prudence, and modeling the headlines of other features accordingly. Advice columns, of course, always involve tantalizing questions, such as this week’s Dear Prudence and today’s most-read Slate feature, which asks, in its subhed, “I can’t stop thinking about my wife’s hot sister. What should I do?

You’ve already clicked that link, haven’t you? I’m just talking to myself now, aren’t I?