3 reasons why you shouldn’t use numbers in headlines

As avid LinkedIn followers, we read a lot of posts from various groups and individuals from around the business world. Like any social media service, postings in the various groups to which we belong are very much writing “in the raw” -  an un-edited stream of collective consciousness that is often rewarding and informative, but just occasionally a little annoying. One of our top bugbears is what appears to be (or maybe we just noticed it!) a growing tendency to use meaningless numbers in headlines to try and grab attention.

There is a well established school of thought in marketing that holds that numbers, and particularly odd numbers, used in headlines in some way adds credibility to the message that follows. Personally, I don’t agree. There may be cases where it is appropriate, but the more I see “5 great ways to..” or “7 reasons why…” the more it irritates me.  It’s not often I get to exercise irony in a professional capacity, so I thought it might be fun to examine why I find it irritating and thereby establish a case for not using numbers in headlines. So here goes: My 3 reasons why you shouldn’t use numbers in headlines…

1) It’s patronising. Good business writing does not dictate to its audience, it engages with them. By numbering your points in some arbitrary way, you are lecturing rather than engaging; you are implying that your reader is so dumb that they can’t perceive your points for themselves or that they have the attention span of a goldfish. Either way, it’s not a good way to win friends and influence people.

2) It’s lazy. A good headline is vital to success; you have perhaps a fraction of a second to grab a reader’s eye as it scans the page. Crafting an effective headline takes time, thought and skill – just ask any newspaper subeditor. A formulaic “5 good reasons…” headline demonstrates none of these qualities. The reader could reasonably surmise that the article that follows will be similarly vacuous and skip it.

3) It’s oh-so contrived. Business writing is not numerology; you should not split or conjoin your arguments in order to meet some arbitrary number of bullet points just because some “marketing guru” said so. Make each point clearly and well, and you’ll have no need to number them to get your arguments across. Your readers will respond much better if you treat them like intelligent people.

AJ – Find me on LinkedIn here

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