A page from the "Poetry through the Ages" exhibit...

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Two-for-one headlines.

Great headlines tell more than one story about the subject in an eloquent way. Writing your own headlines is a great exercise in being able to capture the essence of your thoughts and feelings in only a few words.

Know your audience.

Think of something in the news or in your life that matters greatly to you. Write a few sentences or a paragraph about it, keeping the demographics of your intended audience in mind. Are you writing for teenagers or for retirees? Long-haul truckers or research scientists? A general female consumer audience or male sports aficionados?

Find the rhythm and beat.

Now, try to distill the concept into a single phrase that offers insight from different angles, clues your audience in to the material to follow, and captures the reader’s attention. When you’ve finished, read the headline over and over aloud. See if you can feel its rhythm and beat. Does it capture your ear? Can you feel a stressed and unstressed syllable working together? If you capture a rhythmic beat, the words work well together and your headline snaps a clean shot of the story’s central theme, then you’ve written a captivating, poetic headline.

Try another angle.

To master the art of writing headlines, ask a friend to save a few issues of magazines you don’t typically read. Have your friend cut out at least the first several paragraphs of five different stories – only the text, not the headlines, subheads, pull quotes, photos, or illustrations.

Read the text of the first story and look for a juxtaposition of two story elements, or the hook that the writer uses in the first paragraph. Think of single words that relate to the story. Next, think of a well-known phrase that incorporates one of those words and that will grab the reader’s attention. For example, if you’re reading a story about the resurgence in popularity of Harley-Davidson motorcycles, the Harley nickname "hog" might come to mind. The saying "hog wild" conveys boundless enthusiasm and would communicate both the theme of resurgence and the motorcycle’s nickname. Capitalize it, add an exclamation point, and you have your headline: "Hog Wild!"

Alliterations also make captivating headlines – even when the subject matter is serious. For example, if the story you read focuses on female infertility and the procedures women undergo when trying to conceive, the words "ovaries" and "hurdles" might come to mind. An alliteration that captures the essence of both elements of the story might be "Ovarian Olympics."

Write headlines for all five of the magazine articles, and don’t be afraid to use a thesaurus, or popular song, movie, and book titles for inspiration. You’re looking for an economy of words that will conjure up an image in the reader’s mind, so riffing off of a well-known title or phrase can readily serve your purpose. Once you’ve completed the exercise, compare your headlines to those that were published with the stories.

While people may read words with their eyes, their minds and hearts are engaged by what they hear in that headline or story. If you selected the words you want and you feel the beat, you’ve not only written a poetic headline, but found your subject’s most essential core – the goal of any poet.