Writing catchy headlines and staying credible

I’m a firm believer in evidence-based medicine and credible health writing. I try and sell a message accurately and focus on evidence and facts – even in sales-related health copywriting projects.

Sometimes, I need to think of a catchy, attention-grabbing headline to promote, say, an article about a new piece of research – and I fear that I run the risk of not taking my own advice, or not being true to what I believe in.

I was in this predicament today, when I was under pressure to write a piece to: a) meet a quick turnaround time, and b) get it finished before my 9-month old woke up from her nap.

I have, however, developed a way to manage these situations, so I’m still able to produce pieces that find a way to grab eyeballs without sacrificing credibility or misrepresenting an issue.

Here’s how I have found ways to reduce the risk of choosing sensationalism over sense:

  • Tone it down – I think of the most sensationalist headline possible, one that I might read on a social sharing website, for example (ie “THIS EVERYDAY OBJECT IS ACTUALLY GIVING YOU CANCER”) and I think about why it’s misleading. Then I work backwards, experimenting with words, until I can be sure that there is an equal balance of fact and intrigue.
  • Read other similar research – I read other articles that have discussed previous studies on credible health and medical websites and look at what makes their wording credible.
  • Know my audience – Credible and evidence-based doesn’t have to mean boring. I ensure that, once I have the facts, I can apply them in a voice that speaks to my readers by studying the publication I’m writing for and reading other pieces on similar subjects.

It’s hard to know if I get it right all the time – and there are always editorial changes that are made by editors and subs once I’m finished with a piece. But it is important to me to make every effort to produce credible health content. All any of us can do is our best, right?


About the author: Michelle Guillemard


Michelle is a health writer, medical writer, health copywriter and medical editor with more than 12 years’ experience. Michelle is also an Executive Member of the Australasian Medical Writers Association.

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This article was first published by Michelle Guillemard

1 reply
  1. Andrew
    Andrew says:

    Good article, but it would have been nice to include some examples. For example, show your first draft sensational headlines and then she’ll how you changed them into interesting but accurate headlines.

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