Every year, at the end of the academic year, the chemical society at my university organised an annual dinner for its members. This was preceded by a lecture – open to everyone – given by a distinguished guest speaker. In my final year (1984), the title of this lecture was: ‘How to Cure a Hangover’.
Come the evening in question, students (and lecturers) from all over the university – some probably unaware that City University even had a chemistry department – were crushed into our main lecture theatre to pick up tips on how to deal with the worst excesses of the end of year celebrations.
As it turned out, this was an abject lesson in always reading the small print. Had many of the attendees bothered to read beyond the title of the lecture, they might have noted that the speaker was a senior executive from Shell Oil – an unusual person, perhaps, to be advising on the hair of the dog. What we actually heard was a lecture about the recovery of the oil business following the 1970s fuel crisis. With due respect to the speaker, it was a lecture that probably only the chem soc organising committee and some members of the university’s prestigious business school would have attended had it had a less ‘sexy’ title.
The speaker had clearly appreciated that the use of a few well-chosen words in his title would create a lot of interest among people who would otherwise have completely ignored his lecture.
Not long after I went freelance, I took a course in sub-editing. One of the jobs of the sub-editor on a newspaper or magazine is to write headlines. The course included a number of headline-writing exercises, including a hilarious half hour dreaming up puns and plays on words – which, of course, is what I’ve done here. Apple and Blackberry Crumble: favourite dessert or the business story of the decade?
Another tip was to make use of well known phrases and quotations – a favourite headline of mine was written for a newsletter that I edited for a group of dermatologists. This group held two meetings a year in either North or South America. For the brief article announcing the meeting in Rio de Janeiro, I wrote the headline ‘Rolling Down to Rio’ – the title of a song I remembered learning at school. My boss was a bit worried about how the group might perceive it, but the fact that the quotation comes from Kipling helped! On another occasion the core (executive) group of the committee obliged me by holding a planning meeting in New York, occasioning the headline ‘Core Group Meets in Big Apple’.
My medical writing work doesn’t allow much scope for writing pun-y headlines like that, but I like to keep my hand in. A recent stint as editor of the local parish magazine was a good opportunity. Twitter is another. The journalists at Scrip (@scripnews) wrote a great tweet this week, which particularly appealed to me as a singer and health writer. ‘Four-part Harmony as UK Healthcare Associations Acquire Bolder Hymn Sheet’ announced the formation of LifeSciences UK from four healthcare industry associations including the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI). None of my tweets come up to that standard – perhaps that should be an objective for this year!
Feel free to leave your favourite headlines/tweets as a comment and to find out more about me and my freelance writing, editing and proofreading work, please visit my website: freelancemedicalwriting.co.uk – thank you.