What Copywriters Can Learn from the BBC

This morning a design friend of mine sent me a great article called “World’s Best Headlines: BBC News” written by “usability guru” Jakob Nielsen. As the title suggests, Web writers could learn a thing or two from BBC’s headline-writing pros.

Nielsen writes, “For several years, I’ve been very impressed with BBC News headlines, both on the main BBC homepage and on its dedicated news page. Most sites routinely violate headline guidelines, but BBC editors consistently do an awesome job.”

Now, while the BBC might prefer a different word choice than “awesome,” Nielsen’s right. These headlines are awe-inspiring. So how does the BBC do it?

Their secret can be reduced to this: Every word “works hard for its living.”

The average headline is just five words, but tells you exactly what you need to know.

  • Romania blamed over Moldova riots
  • Ten arrested in UK anti-terrorism raids
  • Iran accuses journalist of spying

So how did BBC get so good at writing headlines or their website? Nielsen’s thesis is a good one:

“It’s in the BBC’s blood: The news organization originated as a radio station, where word count is at a premium and you must communicate clearly to immediately grab listeners.”

And if you want to capture readers on the Web, you need to grab them, too. After all, just like the radio, one click and they’re gone. So in honor of the impending bathing suit season, trim the fat, baby.

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