If you promise a list, give us a list

Headlines are similar to song titles. Effective ones give us a peek at the content and tone of what’s to come. Some are more direct than others, and that’s OK. When you see “She Loves You,” “Dazed and Confused” or “Anarchy in the U.K.,” you have an idea what the song sounds like.

Some headlines and song titles indicate that a list is ahead. This is why “50 Ways To Leave Your Lover” works so well — Paul Simon delivers what the title promises, even if he never gets around to describing all 50 methods. (Watch him perform the song here.)

This package of headline and story on CNN.com, however, fails this test. Here’s the headline:

Seven thoughts that can make you thin

The story that follows is a meandering mess. The reader is hard pressed to find the seven thoughts because the story never presents them that way. The easy solution is to rewrite the headline. The better, more time-consuming solution is to recast the story into a different form, starting with introductory text and then moving into the list.

(Tip of the hat to my keen-eyed wife for pointing this out.)

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