Good Headlines Get More Read Lines

That headline you just read might be the one David Markowitz, Ph.D. would use to describe his research on what engages readers looking for credible news. 

Markowitz, an associate professor in the Department of Communication, is part of a team of researchers whose study of the effects of clear, concise headlines is featured in the June 5 edition of the journal Science Advances

He says simple writing achieves two goals. First, newsrooms get engagement and second, readers get information. That’s important in this era of constant news bombardment, where truth and objectivity are sought after like never before. 

“It can help news outlets compete in the competitive online attention economy and makes news more approachable to online readers,” Markowitz said. 

Markowitz and his research partners, Hillary Shulman from Ohio State University and Todd Rogers from the Harvard University John F. Kennedy School of Government, analyzed headlines from the Washington Post and Upworthy. Studying more than 30,000 cases, the team created an index measuring the simplicity of each headline. They used criteria including noun and verb usage, words per sentence and syllables per word, characters per headline and how well each headline reflected the story content. 

Their finding: simple headlines “click” with readers, so that’s why readers click back. 

“Simplicity is often preferred linguistically because it feels better than complexity to most people,” Markowitz said. “It can impact what people read, what people click on and how they think about companies and institutions competing for our attention.” 

This conclusion seems to run counter to what journalists often believe catches the eye.  Markowitz says journalism training should place more emphasis on writing for the average reader. He adds that it’s important for journalists to be intentional in their writing. 

“In order to get the news into the hands of those who need it most, you need a ‘keep it simple mentality’ and to write for the average reader.” 

It’s a strategy that Markowitz believes will create more informed news consumers and more profitable news producers. 


You can find Dr. David Markowitz’s findings here

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