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Readers: Story can end here

By Jo Parker, CNN
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS

Editor's note: This report is part of a CNN.com series about storytelling and reporting skills called iReport Boot Camp. In this edition, Jo Parker, CNN.com video producer, shares her tips on writing the perfect headline. Read up, then give her advice a try in this week's iReport Boot Camp challenge.

Would you click on that headline? When you give your iReport a bland label instead of a vibrant, compelling headline, you might as well slap "Don't read this" on the top of your story.

You have to give readers a reason to spend their time on your submission. A good headline on the mainpage at CNN.com can be the difference between 200 clicks and 200,000 or more.

So what works and what doesn't? Here are some tips for writing that perfect, click-worthy headline:

Paint a picture

No: Texas playground scare

Yes: Playground erupts in flames

A playground scare could be a flasher in a trench coat. It could be a splintery teeter-totter. But a playground erupting in flames? That's a click magnet.

Be specific

No: Dog nurses kitten

Yes: Rottweiler nurses kitten

Before you know the breed, you might be interested. But you might not. Once you know it's a Rottweiler with a little kitty, you just have to see it. Putting interesting details in headlines is a good way of enticing the reader. Click.

But not too specific

No: Food shortages in Zimbabwe

Yes: Stores' shelves stripped bare

Don't limit your audience by being hyper-local. Tap into the universal appeal of your subject by avoiding too-specific information.

Hook the reader with a memorable detail

No: Curb appeal lost on neighbors

Yes: 26-toilet mansion planned

What makes your iReport a must-watch? What detail of the story kept you talking? Tease and tantalize the reader with those catchy specifics. If you can throw in a number, all the better, because that gives an idea of the magnitude of the situation. And people like numbers in general.

Use common words

No: Unclothed

Yes: Naked

No: Suds

Yes: Beer

Using slang will limit your audience. A reader won't spend time decoding your cleverness. If they don't get the headline right away, you will lose their attention.

Verbs good; labels bad

No: Mortgage meltdown

Yes: 300,000 lose homes to banks

The first words of your headline should be compelling to draw interest, but then the verb is a call for readers to take action and watch. Don't skimp on nice, juicy words and vivid images. It's the difference between "Pekin tornado" and "Tornado deposits car atop house."

Deliver on your promises

If your headline is "Bull leaps into stands, runs amok," they better be able to see the bull midair, in the ring, and people scattering. Don't tease to something that isn't there. Wanna see Video?

Before you start building your story and topping it with a click-worthy headline, check out CNN.com U.S. Editor Audrey Irvine's tips on story packaging. For more tips on reporting and storytelling, visit the boot camp page. Remember, your story is due Monday at noon ET. Good luck!