September 8, 2017 / Theme

Writing strong theme copy

Written by Jim Jordan

Updated by Walsworth Yearbooks

Strong theme copy helps introduce your unifying concept to your readers

Across the country, children and teens make their way to a school building for learning. But the students at your school will have a different experience than the students at all those other schools. Your yearbook will need a theme that reflects what happened at your school this year.

A theme is an idea or concept threaded throughout a yearbook to unify its parts. A theme should not be a cliché or cute phrase, but sound like something students would say this year, and look like this year’s colors and design trends.

Some years an obvious theme will surface, if changes have occurred at your school. Some years, coming up with a theme is difficult. But whatever theme you select, you need to explain it to your readers in your theme copy.

Read the tips and example openings and closings below. Also use the “Finding Your Theme” and “Writing: Tell Me a Story” units of Walsworth’s Yearbook Suite curriculum to learn more about writing theme copy.

Theme copy…

  • Appears on the first two spreads following the title page and as a part of the closing. The divider pages will also be an extension of the theme/concept development.
  • Should tell in specific terms what the theme is all about, and how it relates to the school, the students and the year.
  • Could be a first-person narrative (I or we), a dialogue, a third-person account of relevant details or any other style that communicates clearly the theme and personality of the book.
  • Could feature one story continued from spread to spread or distinctly separate pieces of copy on each spread. Some staffs repeat theme phrases in the headlines on all these spreads; others write original headlines to suit the copy on each spread.

Sometimes there will be years with no major changes. Perhaps, then, an unusual approach can be taken. On the opening and closing spreads, copy below used to develop this “Turning the Corner” theme takes a conversational turn in the form of dialogue between two mythical students, one supposedly smarter than the other, talking about the yearbook:

Opening
“Wait, why is this purple? What do they think the school colors are? Why don’t they ever have a red yearbook?”

“Hold on, there’s red right here on the first page.”

“Oh, I guess that’s not so bad. But why does it say ‘turning the corner’ on the cover? Unless they mean the start of a new decade? But that’s not too obvious.”

“Yeah, but do you really think that’s all they mean? You know how much time they spend up there in that office. They must have something else in mind.”

“Like any corners around here have affected my life? So what do they mean, the school’s on a corner?”

“Think about it. It’s more than that.”

“You mean like the squares on the cover? I kind of get the square tie-in. Like our school is a square and there’s a courtyard in the center, so it’s like a square within a square, right?”

“Yeah. If you keep turning corners, you’ll eventually get to your destination. Where else is it so easy to find your way around?”

They’re making such a big deal about this ‘turning the corner thing.’”

“Maybe they decided to talk about how people are always running into each other.”

“You mean at the corners?”

“Yeah. Didn’t you ever cruise around a corner after the one-minute bell, and get knocked over by some senior who thought he had the right of way?”

“So that’s all they mean?”

“No. I’m sure they mean more than that. Like when you say ‘meet me by the phones’ you know exactly which corner it is. And so does the rest of the school. And what about the corner of the school that’s kind of not there anymore?”

“What?”

“I’m talking about the smoking section.”

“Oh yeah. But what else do they mean?”

“I don’t know, I can’t think of anything else. Why don’t you turn the page and find out.”

Closing

“I get it now. So this is it. They’ve exhausted the topic. We’ve turned all the corners we’re going to.”

“No, you’re missing the point. These aren’t the only ones.”

“You mean there are more?”

“Yeah. There will always be corners to turn. Think of the corners you’ve turned already. Haven’t they affected you? Don’t you think you’ve changed? Don’t tell me you’re the same person who walked in the door at the beginning of the year?”

“You’re probably right. I’m not the same person. I know I’ve changed. But is that all? What could possibly be around the next corner? What else will I have to face?”

“You never know. You’ll never know what’s around the corner, but as long as you’re willing to turn, you’ll be all right.”

Another example of how a somewhat generic theme phrase, “Take Another Look,” was applied to a particular school situation can be found in a piece of copy from the last opening spread and one from the closing spread. The first opening spread gives specific details about the school year. The copy used the second person, you, to directly address the reader and includes quotes from students.

Opening
The next time someone remarks “Central – you’re all a bunch of snobs,” don’t cringe.

Just remember that they haven’t looked past the obvious. But, ask yourself, have you? There’s always something beneath the surface. Did you notice this year’s subtle changes or did you take them for granted? Natalie Bunker said, “Central provides us with great education and students don’t realize that.”

Nellie MacDiarmid recognized “the effect SADD made this year. I feel students are thinking twice about driving if they have been drinking.”

Another organization, the newly formed Athletic Council, jumped on the school spirit bandwagon with “Pack the Place Week” in February. Knowing that there’s always room for improvement, we continued to move forward.

Look at this book, for instance. It might seem like an ordinary El Diablo, but …Why not TAKE ANOTHER LOOK.

Closing
By the time you read this copy, pictures will be covered with autographs, and pages filled with… “This year was the BEST… It was fun… Remember the time… Have a great summer… Call me.”

But these generic expressions don’t even hint at the special memories each of us is left with after one of the “best four years of our lives,” as “they” tell us. We know it hasn’t all been the BEST, but if we look again at this year, now or 20 years from now, we can find value: something we developed interest in, something we learned not to do again, someone we became friends with… even as the penciled messages fade and the inked signatures smudge, keep in mind, it’s worth it to TAKE ANOTHER LOOK.

Jim Jordan
Jim Jordan

Jim Jordan is a Special Consultant for Walsworth Yearbooks and the host of the Yearbook Chat with Jim podcast. He is former yearbook adviser at Del Campo High School in Fair Oaks, California. Jim was the 1996 JEA Yearbook Adviser of the Year, and shares his expertise with students and advisers at workshops and conventions across the country. Jim is the lead mentor for Walsworth's Adviser Mentor Program.