To accomplish their purpose most effectively titles should be (1) attractive, (2) accurate, (3) concise, and (4) concrete.
The attractiveness of a title is measured by its power to arrest attention and to lead to a reading of the article. As a statement of the subject, the title makes essentially the same appeal that the subject itself does; that is, it may interest the reader because the idea it expresses has timeliness, novelty, elements of mystery or romance, human interest, relation to the reader's life and success, or connection with familiar or prominent persons or things. Not only the idea expressed, but the way in which it is expressed, may catch the eye. By a figurative, paradoxical, or interrogative form, the title may pique curiosity. By alliteration, balance, or rhyme, it may please the ear. It permits the reader to taste, in order to whet his appetite. It creates desires that only the article can satisfy.
In an effort to make his titles attractive, a writer must beware of sensationalism and exaggeration. The lurid news headline on the front page of sensational papers has its counterpart in the equally sensational title in the Sunday magazine section. All that has been said concerning unwholesome subject-matter for special feature stories applies to sensational titles. So, too, exaggerated, misleading headlines on news and advertisements are matched by exaggerated, misleading titles on special articles. To state more than the facts warrant, to promise more than can be given, to arouse expectations that cannot be satisfied —all are departures from truth and honesty.
Accuracy in titles involves, not merely avoidance of exaggerated and misleading statement, but complete harmony in tone and spirit between title and article.
When the story is familiar and colloquial in style, the title should reflect that informality. When the article makes a serious appeal, the title should be dignified. A good title, in a word, is true to the spirit as well as to the letter.
Conciseness in titles is imposed on the writer by the physical limitations of type and page. Because the width of the column and of the page is fixed, and because type is not made of rubber, a headline must be built to fit the place it is to fill.
Although in framing titles for articles it is not always necessary to conform to the strict requirements as to letters and spaces that limit the building of news headlines, it is nevertheless important to keep within bounds. A study of a large number of titles will show that they seldom contain more than three or four important words with the necessary connectives and particles. Short words, moreover, are preferred to long ones. By analyzing the titles in the publication to which he plans to send his article, a writer can frame his title to meet its typographical requirements.
The reader's limited power of rapid comprehension is another reason for brevity.
A short title consisting of a small group of words yields its meaning at a glance.
Unless the reader catches the idea in the title quickly, he is likely to pass on to something else. Here again short words have an advantage over long ones.
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