The Critical Importance of Titles and Leads in Our Writing
The quality and information contained in your writing doesn’t matter if no one ever reads it. As a leader and Business Relationship Manager, writing to convey a message or to impart knowledge is a necessary skill. We must all learn to write content that compels people to want to read (or watch in the case of video content). Drawing people in to read your writing is an art and science long practiced by journalists, bloggers, and article writers and we can benefit from their experience. When it comes to getting your audience to read blog posts, articles or webinar pages, the key is the carefully-chosen words in Title and the Lead.
The Title of anything helps the reader decide whether or not the subject warrants their precious time to read further. If the Title is compelling enough, the reader might be willing to invest a few more moments by reading the first sentence or two – commonly called the Lead. If the Lead is compelling enough, the reader might be willing to invest even more time to read some or all of the content. This cognitive style of most people for selecting what they will and will not read is well known to journalists and other writers. The best ones give a lot of thought to the words they use to formulate their titles and leads.
The purpose of a title is to:
- Grab Attention – Compel the reader to read the lead-in.
- Predict Content – Set an expectation of what awaits them.
- Establish Tone – Create an atmosphere appropriate to the subject matter.
- The fewer words the better
- Consider answering who, what, where, when, why, how questions
- Ask yourself, “what is the first question someone is likely to ask about this article?”, and then answer it
- Pretend you’re Yoda and twist the words, i.e. “Titles and Leads in Writing, the Critical Importance“
- First create a small set of the most important keywords in your content, then rearrange those words
- Be specific, not general
- Use numbers when appropriate, i.e. “The Top 10 Tips for Effective Titles and Leads“
- Brainstorm titles with others whenever possible
Use power words that have a positive psychological impact on the reader:
As you formulate a Title, always respect the readers experience. Never create expectations that won’t be met and damage your credibility with the reader.
The Lead is the introductory section of your blog post or wiki page that is intended to entice the reader to read the full story. If a reader gets to your Lead, that means you did a good job on your title. The reader has given you a few moments of their time – like a second or two! What you do in those precious moments will determine if the reader is willing to invest more time. That is how important a Lead is. Coming up with a good lead is hard. Even great writers acknowledge that writing an effective Lead is the hardest part of the article.
The Lead is more than just a part of your article. It is THE part of your article that shows up in other places where potential readers scan reading material. Few, if any, readers are opening every blog post one after the other to decide which ones to read. Instead, they are scanning through a list of blog posts, looking for something that catches their interest. The Title and the Lead are all that show up in the consolidated list – the decision to read or not to read is made there.
- Keep it short: One, two, or three sentences at the most
- The first sentence is the most important; make it intriguing
- Put yourself in the shoes of readers: Know what will interest them, thrill them, or confuse them
- Once again, consider answering who, what, where, when, why, how questions
- Use an active voice; avoid starting sentences with “It is…”, “There are…”, “A common…”, etc.
- Consider this the beginning of a personal relationship between you and your reader
- Don’t make readers have too work to hard to see where you’re going
- Avoid clichés, puns, dictionary-definitions or any other technique that turns you off – it will turn off readers as well
- Write the Lead first – it will confirm you have something worth writing about
- Always review the first impression of your Title and Lead as your readers will first see them – in Confluence, that means in a list of blog posts (like in the home page of the Members Hangout or Online Campus Dashboard) or a list of wiki pages (like the Members Templates and Examples home page or Webinar home page)
- Proofread – Never make spelling or grammar errors!
Leads and Titles share a common truth: As you formulate either of them, always respect the reader’s experience. Never create expectations that won’t be met and damage your credibility with the reader.
Megan Krause has a wonderful blog post called How to Write a Lead: 10 Dos, 10 Don’ts, 10 Good Examples. The entire post is great but the examples are excellent and could serve as inspiration when you are struggling to write your Lead.
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