I never learned how to write copy in school. In fact, even after taking a ton (yes, we weigh them in tonnage) of literature and humanities classes, I somehow graduated from college without knowing the term “copy writing.” To be fair, I went to Arizona State, so there’s that. However, I first learned about the concept of copy writing when my friend Jeremy Macdonald mentioned the term in reference to developing a website.
Jeremy explained how copywriting shapes our world. “It’s the words you see in websites and advertising. It’s specific lines you see in short form prose.” I had never considered how a tagline on a website or the header as an important part of the writing process.
Essentially, copy is the web pages, advertisements, emails, and promotional materials. It’s often used in a business context. However, it can also be used in social and civic contexts. It is often persuasive but it can be more functional and expository text as well. Think of copy as the shorter, intentional writing we do that often feels invisible (a blog title, a book description, a short video script) but has a profound influence on what we are thinking.
I remember diving into the copywriting literature and feeling excited and kind-of angry. I vacillated between “why didn’t I know about this earlier” and “these folks are overthinking this.” As I played around with copy, I realized that it was less like standard prose and more like writing poetry. I wasn’t used to the brevity, creativity, or intentionality required in writing copy.
But then . . .
I fell in love with writing copy. It’s why I love writing the descriptions in blogs and on social media. It’s why I love writing the scripts on my sketchy videos. I love the focus required in copywriting. I love playing around with sentence structure and word choice.
This has me wondering if students should learn how to write copy. We tend to focus on the “more is better” aspect of writing in schools. Students learn how to perfect the five paragraph essay. More and more, they are learning about how to cite evidence and write analytically. And yet, when I think of the writing they will do outside of school, I wonder how often it will be actually require copywriting skills. What happens when students write resumes? What about really important emails? How about the times they create something they want to launch to the world?
We often hear about the need for students to write code, but what about learning how to write great copy? Students inhabit a digital world saturated with cheap text, constantly bombarded with quick and thoughtless language. When they learn to write copy, their words stand out. They learn to write with clarity, brevity, and purpose.
I wonder what it would mean to ask students these questions:
- Can you write in a way that inspires your readers to take action?
- What does it look like to write with brevity and clarity?
- How do the individual words you choose shape what a reader is thinking? In particular, how do the choice of verbs reframe an idea?
- Why does sentence structure matter? How does the verb tense shape the interpretation of a text?
- In what ways will your words shape the mental environment and sense of space in a work?
I’m not suggesting we scrap the five paragraph essay or do away with creative writing. However, I wonder what it would look like to at least expose students to the idea of craft great copy. I wonder how students would change as critical thinkers if they saw language as something profound and intentional and capable of shaping their world.