National Storytelling Week: The Title

Annabel Harper

31 Jan 2022

Whatever the format, whatever the subject – stories are incredibly powerful for sharing ideas and information. That’s as true in the world of business as the world of fiction. So this National Storytelling Week, Harvard’s Content & Editorial team share their very different takes on the ingredients that make a great story.

First, Annabel Harper spells out her tips for a top title. 

“What’s in a name?” A lot, it turns out.  

The question – uttered some 425 years ago – lead to the demise of two star-crossed lovers and has been re-used in pop-culture ever since.  

Now, not every title can reach icon-status like Romeo & Juliet, but it should make an impact.  

It’s the umbrella for which the rest of your writing shelters and the first thing your reader sees. Make it count, and you’ll be on to something great. 

But how can I make my heading work hard, I hear you ask! Well… let’s start from the top, with ‘t’ is for TITLE: 

Try to keep it short

You have just eight seconds to grab your reader’s attention. So, when it comes to the title of a piece, literally every second counts. Write succinctly. Avoid words like ‘and’ or ‘because’. Use punctation to break-up lengthier headlines and don’t you dare end on a preposition. 

It’s the gateway to your article: make it stand for something 

Get your point across quickly, but make it interesting. In very few words your heading has the potential to convey a controversial opinion, offer an interesting solution or provide unique insight. Even if you’re trying to sell cloud data management solutions (again), work out what makes your piece worth reading and put it front and centre. 

Take time to get it right: review and edit 

Eyeballs are everything, and when it comes to the name of your piece it’s important to take the time to capture as many as possible. Write your headline last. And don’t be afraid to come back to it – have a play until it’s spot on. 

Leave an air of mystery so your reader will want to know more 

Unless you’re the kind of person who reads the last page of a book, first (maverick), try not to give away everything in your title. Some like to call it click bait… but leaving room for intrigue is an important factor when it comes to getting people’s attention. 

Ensure it hints at what you want the reader to take away 

If Ferris Bueller’s Day Off didn’t have the man himself skiving, or Macauley Culkin wasn’t actually ‘Home Alone’, you’d be miffed. Take a leaf out of a John Hughes movie title and make sure your reader knows exactly what they’re getting when investing their time to peruse your piece.