Entering the Opinion section’s headline writing contest can be cathartic, like putting out into the universe your vision for better days to come in 2021. Or like taking elected officials to task, as the country just did on Election Day.
Whatever your approach, headline writing is a fun challenge. If you’re a finalist, your creativity will be rewarded with a starring role in print and online on New Year’s Day when we publish the best of the best. The top three headlines as judged by our staff also will win Seattle Times swag.
A great headline needs to grab a reader’s attention — we know how hard that can be — and succinctly summarize the main point of an article. A headline is a handful of words, not a paragraph — so avoid that trap. Last year, to help contestants, I shared my top headline writing tips gleaned from a Seattle Times mentor: Be concise; be conversational; have fun; collaborate. A couple of readers emailed wondering about all the tips. The rest — minus some jargony ones for in-house metrics purposes — are: Be clear; be specific; front-load the key details; don’t be boring; be accurate; be clear rather than clever; tap into controversy; use quotes; use strong verbs; avoid question headlines; and stay current.
Making a headline punchy and using word play are good goals, too, as illustrated by last year’s best three: “Boeing retools reputation, one rivet at a time” (from Marilyn Hawkins, Walla Walla); “United citizens overturn Citizens United” (Lynn Carrigan, Vashon); and “Salish Sea awash with orcas” (from Cora Harrington, Bremerton).
And a final note: Be kind. It’s possible to be wickedly funny without being wicked. Over my four years with the Opinion team, which have coincided with President Donald Trump’s term, we’ve received an alarming number of headlines about hurricanes destroying Mar-a-Lago. Ouch!
Good luck, and here’s hoping for health, understanding and cooperation in 2021.
HOW TO ENTER: Submit up to two headlines online by Dec. 17 via email to firstname.lastname@example.org, with the subject “2021 Headline Contest.” Please include your full name, address and telephone number for verification. Only your name and city of residence will be published should your entry be published.