September 17, 1996 / Copywriting / Coverage / Fall 1996

Copy That Communicates

Written by Crystal Kazmierski


Writing copy – good copy – can be the most burdensome part of producing a yearbook. It often involves laboring for hours over a single caption; tearing through the thesaurus to find the perfect word; struggling to gather effective quotes; never settling for “good enough” if there is something better. Mentally exhausting? Yes! And yet, the essence of excellent yearbook writing can be summed up in one simple word: detail.

Often students get so bogged down trying to achieve that “catchy lead” that they neglect the rest of the story. They capture the reader’s attention, but do not deliver the details. Without minimizing the importance of effective leads, encourage your students to start with the basic facts. Just get something – anything – down. If the opening is not flowing, start in the middle. The point is to get writing. It is easier to edit a faulty story than to write a perfect one the first time around. Snappy leads and lively quotes can be added later.

Now the fun begins. Keeping in mind that the purpose of yearbook writing is to preserve the year and enable readers to relive memories, have your students imagine that it is 10 or 20 years from now as they edit their stories. Are there enough details and quotes to make the memories real? Is the language specific enough? Is the writing significant? Is it worth publishing? Or are there words that no one can relate to? Are there vague references that do not serve any purpose? Are there empty quotes just taking up space?

Screen stories for such overused “yearbook” words as this year, awesome, dedication, diligence, teamwork; vague terms like some, many, really, seems, feels, very; trivial phrases like hard work really paid off, the team bonded together as a unit. Before you know it, your staff will develop its own list of “contraband terms.” The best part is that in substituting real facts, specifics and information for the old stuff, good, solid copy will emerge – details instead of ambiguity; substance instead of platitudes.

The rest is easy. A liberal sprinkling of substantial quotes will make stories come to life. Check them for details that will help illustrate the story and indicate the year. “The dance was a lot of fun!” says nothing special. Dances are supposed to be fun. On the other hand, “I tripped on my date’s shoe and fell head-first into the punch bowl!” creates a visual memory with words.

Once you have a worthy article, create an interesting lead to entice readers. Leads can be subtle or satirical; descriptive or poetic; humorous or mysterious. “This year, the drama club presented a spine-tingling mystery,” is a sure-fire way to get readers to skip the story. “Eerie. Frightening. Deadly. It was a simple tale of terror,” is more likely to grab their attention.

Finally, encourage your students to pro-actively seek the extraordinary – the best word, the most creative phrase, a more specific quote. Challenge them to keep their standards high as they strive to produce a yearbook that is detailed, spirited and distinctive.

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Crystal Kazmierski

With a background in commercial art, Crystal Kazmierski advises the Wings yearbook at Arrowhead Christian Academy in Redlands, California, and teaches design and photography at journalism workshops and conventions across the country. Under Crystal’s guidance, Wings has received multiple CSPA Gold Crown and NSPA Pacemaker awards; including winning a Yearbook Pacemaker 18 times in the last 19 years. Crystal is also the author of Finding Your Theme, a unit in Walsworth’s Yearbook Suite curriculum.