Merlin Writing 101

Guidelines and Tips

Effective Web writing goes beyond strong copywriting – even more so for Merlin, where the venue and audience for copy is less certain. Writing for Merlin must succinctly and compellingly communicate the content that awaits a user's click. Your Merlin writing should answer these questions:

  • What am I clicking?
  • Why should I click?

The what is complicated by the fact that Merlin objects live outside the context of the site for which the content was created. Therefore, context must be provided in the title and description to ensure the full meaning of the content is communicated – and that a satisfying user experience is created.


General Approach

  • Know your audience
  • Know your objective
  • Use strong images and write to them
  • Write with an active voice
  • Structure clarity: subject verb object
  • Use casual language for punchy sentences
  • Write for the reader, but use keywords for SEO
  • Choose clarity over creativity
  • Embrace character limits to be skim-able


Title and Headline Toolbox

  • Single quote — Obama: Reform 'Must Pass'
  • Strong verb — Stem Cells Made to Mimic Disease
  • Descriptive modifiers — Skittish Antelope Provide Challenge
  • Why — Why Antarctica Is in Trouble
  • How — How Obama Won
  • Where — Where the EPA Failed
  • Question — Is This Cupcake Art?
  • Made-up word — Tortillanomics: Food and Fuel
  • Superlatives — The Best Nature Photos of the Year



Some content favor certain types of headlines. The following are headline formulas for music, news, and cooking objects:

Music Headlines

1. Song:

  • Pearl Jam’s “Just Breathe,”
  • KT Tunstall Performs "Madame Trudeaux"

2.  Full Episode/Concert:

  • Pearl Jam Concert
  • Celebracion! Dudamel, Florez, and the L.A. Philharmonic

3. Interview:

  • L.A. Band Ozomatli on Working at the Bush-era State Dept


News Headlines: Who, What, Where, and/or Why?

1. Story: 

  • Recession Business Success Stories
  • Haiti Reconstruction Aid Falls Short, New Figures Show,
  • The Return of Moktada al-Sadr 

2.  Interview: (Prominent Person X on Y Subject, Title of Person X on Y Subject)

  • New Rep. Renacci Aims to Keep Outsider Perspective
  • Interior Department Deputy Secretary on Deepwater Drilling
  • A Doctor's Role in End-of-Life Decisions 

3. Debate:

  • Senate Debate: Person A and Person B;
  • Person A and Person B Debate on Taxes, Education, Mortgages


Recipe Headlines: Use the dish name and if applicable, a qualifier

  • Healthy Mac & Cheese
  • French Carrot Lentil Soup
  • Asian Pork Dumplings


PBS Style and Standards 

Merlin content objects are expected to follow the Associated Press (AP) Style Guide. This manual of style is the news, publishing, and broadcast standard. Publishers are expected to be attentive to elements of style including word usage or constructions that reflect inappropriate editorializing. As a subset of PBS content and an extension of the brand, all content within Merlin objects (copy, images, etc.) as well as the content to which Merlin objects point should follow and meet the PBS editorial standards and policies, available here: