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Are You Avoiding This Workhorse Headline Strategy?
(How to Write Question Headlines that Work)

Your headline shouldn't
ask a question that the reader can instantly answer, because then he has no reason to keep reading.

By Lisa Sargent
Sargent Communications


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“This time the bad advice appeared in a major online newsletter. I read it and cringed. The article – all about crafting effective headlines – said this:

Is [your headline] a question? Never use one. You can’t control a
prospect’s answer, and they may stop reading.

That’s hogwash. In the writer’s shoes, I’d have said this: Your headline shouldn’t ask a question that the reader can instantly answer, because then he has no reason to keep reading.

To discover why that strategy works better, let’s take a trip together: to the shores of the Bering Sea.

You’re in Nome, Alaska. It’s a summer day, and the temperature hovers around 70 degrees. Your bedroom window is open, but the breeze is delightful, and there’s no rush close the window.

Fast-forward to January. It’s 25 below zero with a shrieking winter wind. And unless you’re a seal or a polar bear, I’ll bet you’re compelled to ACT: you’ve got to jump up and slam that window closed.

Why is a good “question headline” like a window left open in an Alaskan winter?

Because your prospect’s brain (and your brain, too) is hard-wired to solve the problem. She must keep reading to answer the question... meet the challenge... discover the benefits (or the secret sources of her pain).

So let’s give question headlines the respect they deserve.

Now for two easy tips that help you write question headlines that get results:

#1. You can ask a yes or no question ... but you must either
      answer it immediately, or phrase the question so your
      prospect has to read the promotion to answer it.

Two examples: “Are You Paying Too Much for Your Car Insurance? How to Tell.” Here your prospect can indeed answer yes or no to the question, but is immediately faced with how to tell. That’s a hint at inside insurance information coming his way.

Or this one, from a promotion for a popular copywriting course: “Can You Write a Letter Like This One?” (The prospect, of course, has to at least scan the letter to find out. What’s more, it’s a purposely simple letter, so even at first glance most folks will look at it and think, “Of course I can write a letter like that.”)

And here are three of my own yes/no question headlines (these from e-blasts written for a pharma publisher, so pardon the alien phrases):

  • Drowning in Adverse Event Data? Find Answers Here.
  • Black Box Warning Worries? This Report Can End Them
  • Rx Patent Expiry? Generics Forbidden for 3 More Years Here

#2. Ask a question that implies an answer or benefits are
      contained in the promotion.

You can do that with words like “this” or “these” or even “which.” And of course, Maxwell Sackheim’s “Do You Make These Mistakes in English?” springs immediately to mind – arguably the best-selling question headline of all time.

The word these changes everything. In effect, Mr. Sackheim is telling you: Read on, and you’ll discover just what these mistakes are...

But you don’t have to recycle that headline time after time to make it work for you. Here are a few variations that I’ve used when writing headlines for the websites and e-mail newsletters of nonprofit organizations:
  • What makes an animal hero? (Note: This e-mail subject line boasts a
    19% open rate.)
  • Who will warm Summer’s heart?
  • Fountain of youth for homeless pets?
There you have it! But please, don’t let these be the only two in your toolkit...

... A world of wonderful question headlines await you – from the well-worn “Who Else Wants to [Get Rich on the Internet, Invest like Warren Buffett, etc.]?” to the late Bill Jayme’s “Do You Close the Bathroom Door Even When You’re the Only One Home?” – so happy trails, and good luck on your quest for question headlines!

One more thing: see the headline and subhead in this article? They’re question headlines, too!

About Lisa Sargent and Sargent Communications:

As president of Sargent Communications, Lisa Sargent is dedicated to helping her nonprofit clients keep their donors. Specializing in post-acquisition fundraising and development communications, known as donor retention communications, Lisa Sargent can help you keep donors connected (and giving) to your cause.

Just call +001 (860) 881-7009 to get started, or email Lisa at

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