Works for me times 10,000 does not translate to proven strategy

I’ve been working with the Ship 30 for 30 writing program. The price point was acceptable and I had enough recommendations/pointers from sources I trust to give it a try. I’m not the target demographic but concluded the cost/benefit tradeoff was positive nonetheless. Not the first time I’ve taken on a learning challenge with the full expectation that I would be adapting lessons to my own purposes.

The lesson at hand focuses on why I should adopt their model of headlines. At best, the title for this post is within the outer periphery of their recommendations. But it’s more of an assertion about why I object to their logic.

Their argument is that a headline should make a clear promise of what is to follow and that any headline that delivers on its promise is not clickbait. Unobjectionable. They assert that this advice is rooted in their extensive experience producing headlines in their preferred style.

Extensive experience is a better starting place than a shot in the dark. On its own, however, “extensive experience” is just another way of saying “it works for me”. String all the stories you want together and it still doesn’t add up to data. You need a theory of the case for how your collection of anecdotes leads to your recommended rules. Asserting a proven strategy is only the first of many steps on the path to knowledge I can trust; I haven’t seen those steps.

The recommended headline structures do, indeed, feel like clickbait to me. While I agree that delivering on the promise of your headline absolves you of the accusation of promoting clickbait, I also swim in a sea of clickbait. I’ve been burned more than enough times to be highly skeptical of any headline that smells of clickbait. When I have a choice between a clickbait headline and a dull headline from someone I trust, the choice is easy.

The question becomes how do I find sources I trust? How do I find people whose pointers are worth following? I had a phone call this morning from a colleague and friend I’ve know for close to forty years. Over the course of 45 minutes I came up with dozens of pointers to things I now want to read.

A decent headline might get me to click. What I’m really in search of is sources I can trust.

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