Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Stop! Get a better title, or forget winning readers

Would YOU eagerly read an article with the following title?

Gulf Oil Spill

Impact on State and Local Government

Analysis of original title and introductory paragraph

Thousands of articles about BP's oil spill are fighting for your attention. "Not another oil spill story!" is probably the reaction of many readers who scan this title. The big problem: The title doesn't say why you should read it.

Let's look at the first paragraph to find a reason that you can highlight in a new title.
The Gulf Oil Spill will certainly have long-term repercussions for the fishing and tourism industries as well as the overall environment in the impact areas of the Gulf region. It is early in the disaster to fully evaluate the long-term effect on the states most at risk of contamination: Louisiana, Mississippi, Florida and Alabama. We do not anticipate immediate negative credit implications at the state level for those in question, but feel concerns are more likely to materialize at the local level at this time. We are continuously monitoring developments in the Gulf and considering our credit exposure in these areas.

Aha! Now I get it. Look at the phrases above that I bolded. Readers of this wealth management firm's newsletter should realize that the firm is looking out for the safety of their municipal bond portfolios. Too bad the title didn't tell them that.

The introductory paragraph doesn't help either. It starts with generic information that doesn't relate directly to investments. Even worse, it buries the most important information in the paragraph's second half.

Also, if readers aren't fixed income geeks, they may not realize that "negative credit implications" translates into "possible bond downgrades that could trim the value of your municipal bond portfolio."

Please stop here. Before you read any more, jot down a new title and first sentence for this article.

Looking for a better title

Here are some alternative titles.
  1. Will Your Municipal Bond Portfolio Spill Like BP's Well?
  2. No Need to Worry...Yet About the Oil Spill's Impact on Your Bond Portfolio
  3. Assessing the Oil Spill's Impact on Muni Bonds: The Three Most Important Factors
Which do you like best? Feel free to share your title ideas.

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Copyright 2010 by Susan B. Weiner All rights reserved


  1. In other words, make the title express the gist of the article.

    Immediately, the spill suggests a metaphor that replaces beaches with munie bonds:

    BP Spill Could Hit Local Munies, States Still Seem Safe

    This is probably more suited to a newspaper than a newsletter, but could be... refined.

    BTW, The Economist remains the best publication for anyone wishing to learn how to write proper titles, subheads, and captions. The British penchant for direct speaking makes them superior in this writing sub-art.

  2. Joe,

    I like your idea of using a metaphor. Communicating the article's gist in a colorful way is powerful.

    Great tip about The Economist. Here's a link to their business-finance page for some sample titles: http://www.economist.com/business-finance

    "Refined," huh? I see you're a punster. Thanks for making me smile in addition to providing helpful tips.


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