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WRITING YEARBOOK COPY The Basics of Traditional Copy.

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1 WRITING YEARBOOK COPY The Basics of Traditional Copy

2 FIRST, LET’S AGREE… …that yearbooks need words in addition to pictures to tell the complete story of the year. Yes, the yearbook is primarily a visual package. People buy it because they want to see pictures of themselves and their friends, not because they are eager to read the copy. But…

3 THINK ABOUT IT The yearbook is the only permanent written record of the school year. This alone should be enough to convince us that we have an obligation to our audience — and to future audiences — to tell the story of the year in addition to showing it. As journalists we need to provide the who, what, when, where and why that fill in the details of the visual story.

4 You’ll still have plenty of room for photos if you incorporate traditional copy into each spread. And the copy will help the yearbook retain its value through the years. Nugget, Cupertino HS, Cupertino, CA

5 Plus, the copy gives you other ways to include people in the book
Plus, the copy gives you other ways to include people in the book. Whether it’s through a profile of a student/teacher or a series of quotes, the copy includes more people in the book more times. El Lobo, Basic HS, Henderson, NV

6 Most traditional copy is written as longform narrative prose… in paragraphs, but there are some distinct differences. Hurricane, Gainesville HS, Gainesville, FL

7 DESPITE WHAT SOME SAY… …if you write great copy, they will read it.
Here are six tips for writing amazing copy: But you say, “No one reads the copy anyway.” That’s because a lot of the copy out there is not worth reading. Here are six tips to get you started in the right direction for writing copy that will get read.

8 TIP #1: DO YOUR HOMEWORK Research Interview Be there
Before ever setting pen to paper — or fingers to keyboard — you need to gather information. If you’re writing about football, you need to find out how the season went. What was different about this year than years past? What were the highs and lows of the season? Who were the standout players? What game worried them the most? How did they prepare? Those are a few questions you could answer. There are many more. Some of the answers will come from record books and the athletic office. You could consult the school’s website, the school newspaper and the local paper to find out more. But most of those answers will come from talking to people. You need to interview a wide range of people from coaches to players to managers to fans. Learn how to conduct successful interviews. You can’t write meaningfully about any activity or event without being there to observe. So if your assignment is football, you need to attend some games. Watch how the players on the bench interact. See how the coach acts on the sidelines. Observe the fans in the stands. Watch the cheerleaders. After you’ve done your homework, you can get started on your story.

Let’s go back to our football assignment. Once we’ve gathered all the information, talked to a wide range of people involved and gone to some games, we need to narrow our perspective. Football is a really broad subject. If we simply write an overview of the season, that’s not going to be very interesting. We can get that information from looking at the scoreboard. Find a focus. That’s your angle. To find an angle, ask yourself what was different about this season. Maybe the team had a new coach. Maybe the starting line all graduated. Maybe the team had a female kicker. Maybe the starting quarterback is only a sophomore. All these ideas could be used as a feature angle. You could also ask what stood out about this season. Did the team beat their rival for the first time in many years? Was their schedule an unusually difficult one? Think about capturing the spirit of the story. Sometimes finding your angle is simple and quick. Other times it’s a struggle. But once you find it, the rest of the job will be easier.

You’ve only got a few words to get their attention Focus on what’s most interesting Avoid “this year” and vague words like “many” Now that we’ve done our homework and found an angle, we can actually start to build the story. The first words, called the lead, are the most important. You have to grab the reader’s attention within those first few words to draw him into the rest of the story. With your angle in mind, what is the most compelling aspect of it? For our football example, was it a story a player told you about a particular game? Or was it one quote that really stood out? Or maybe there was a startling contrast between this season and last season. Stay away from generalizations and vague words like “many or “a lot” or “some.” Unless you’re making a comparison, skip “this year.” And since the name of the school is on the outside of the book, don’t include it in your lead. Writing good leads is hard. Don’t be afraid to work on the body of the story and come back to the lead. Let’s look at some different types of leads you might use.

11 TYPES OF LEADS Allusion Compare/contrast Descriptive Direct quotation
Narrative hook Shocking statement Suspense/teaser These are a few ideas for possible leads. Let’s look at them in more detail.

12 ALLUSION Alluding to a familiar person, event, line or song
To be effective, the allusion must be familiar enough for the audience to recognize It looked like an episode of “Friday Night Lights.”As the Trojans took the field against arch-rival Okemos, the fans erupted, filling the stadium with noise. Think about your audience when using an allusion lead. Don’t use an allusion they will not recognize, no matter how fitting it seems.

13 COMPARE/CONTRAST Points out opposites or extremes
She stands a mere five feet, one inch, a full foot shorter than most of her teammates. But junior Samantha Smith towers over the rest of the varsity football team when it comes to kicking ability. Comparisons could be made between last season and this one, if the comparison is extreme enough. Or you could compare the mental to the physical preparation for the season or game. Or you could compare your quarterback to your rival’s.

14 DESCRIPTIVE Paints a vivid word picture by describing sights, sounds, smells, tastes and feels Smells of sweaty bodies punctuated the steamy locker room as players hung their heads, slumping in silence after their loss to Hudson. Through descriptive words help the reader see what you saw, hear what you heard, smell what you smelled, taste what you tasted and feel what you touched.

15 DIRECT QUOTATION Uses a direct quotation
To be effective, it must be a powerful, memorable quote “I heard my shin bone crack and knew that my season was over,” senior Joe Jones said. This is an easy lead to write, but be careful to only use it when the quote is really strong and supports your angle better than any other option. “Football was work, but it was fun,” should NOT be used as a lead.

16 NARRATIVE HOOK Create a situation Can be either factual or fictional
As the rain dripped off his helmet, senior Ryan Holt watched the final play of the game against Mason. After three years as part of the starting line, his high school football career had ended. This lead is similar to the descriptive lead. It can be a little more creative. This lead focuses more on a personal story.

17 SHOCKING STATEMENT Uses an unusual or shocking fact
Aims to catch the reader off guard Three sprained ankles, a broken arm, two concussions and one heat stroke. All were the result of the first week of varsity football practice. If you run across a startling fact or something really unusual as you are researching your story, you can put it to use in your lead.

18 SUSPENSE/TEASER Holds back on the main focus of the story to build suspense It started as a sprinkle, then built to a shower and finally became a downpour. The rumble of thunder, distant at first, became louder. With just three minutes left, the refs postponed the game. The goal with a suspense lead is the make the reader so curious, he has to read on.

Say “John scored the touchdown,”not “The touchdown was scored by John.” Give students a voice --- and get more of them in the book Be sure the quotes are meaningful One way to bring your copy to life is by using action verbs and active voice. Get rid of dead verbs like is, am, was, were, be, being and been. Instead focus on using verbs that express action. The same goes for voice. Place the person doing the action early in the sentence followed by a strong action verb. If you conduct successful interviews, you will have plenty of meaningful quotes to use throughout your story. Let the students tell the story through their voices. Just be sure you only use quotes that add to the story. Forget “I had a lot of fun at homecoming” or “Math class was hard.”

Present the details and the facts without commenting on them Be careful of adjectives and adverbs that offer an opinion Your job is to report the story. If you do a good enough job, the reader will reach the conclusion you want him to without you having to tell him what that conclusion should be. When you let your opinion creep into the story, it’s called editorializing. One typical place where writers editorialize is by using adjectives and adverbs that offer an opinion. Here are a few examples: successful season, hard practice, great performance, listens intently, waits patiently, yells enthusiastically. You can quote students saying it was a successful season or that they were waiting patiently, but you cannot make that judgment for the reader. You could also tell the story with such factual detail that the reader realizes it was a great performance or the crowd was yelling with enthusiasm. Another place where editorializing frequently appears is in the conclusion of copy, especially sports copy. Be careful about making generalized statements that offer an opinion or a judgment.

Write in third person Include specific details like names, dates, scores, costs The events (and the year) will be over when the book is distributed, so everything should be in past tense. Using third person pronouns like he, she and they adds to the credibility of the reporting. (If you say “We beat them and we definitely deserved to win” it doesn’t sound like a historical record.) Using as many specific details as possible will help readers recall the events and topics with more clarity, both when the book arrives on campus and for years to come.

22 TIP #7: WRITE TIGHT Keep sentences simple Keep paragraphs short
Keep the fluff out Yearbook copy is not like an essay for your English class. Put away the thesaurus, and write in the language of your readers. This isn’t the place to try to sound like a PhD. Nor is it the time to exercise your creative writing skills. Give us the facts. Use quotes to fill in the story. Then quit writing. Most journalistic writing makes use of simple sentences and short paragraphs. Consider words a maximum length for most paragraphs. One of the reasons you’ll use shorter paragraphs than in expository writing is that your type is more likely to be set in narrower columns. Having a break between the paragraphs will allow a rest for the readers’ eyes.

Use stylistic devices or information from your lead to bring the readers full circle Find the perfect summarizing quote Traditional yearbook copy is written in a spool format rather than the inverted pyramid style you may have learned about in newswriting. A strong conclusion is as important to the success of your story as the lead is.

24 1 OR 2 MORE THINGS Learn from the professionals Practice
Be open to revision and editing Journalistic writing is a skill. Just like any skill that we try to learn, we need to look at how the professionals do it and then we practice doing it ourselves. Read the professionals and practice writing the way they write. When you think you’ve got it down, practice some more. Good writing is hard work. Remember that the copy editor’s job is to help you be your best. The rewards are having hundred of people read what you wrote. So put in the work to write copy that will be read.

25 GO FORTH AND WRITE …yearbook copy that’s grammatically correct and well-thought out. Your third-person, past-tense stories should have specific angles that tie them to the school and the coverage year. The best of the best begin with enticing leads and are filled with great quotes from a variety of sources and specific details that add to the photos and captions to create the complete story of the year. Yes, the yearbook is primarily a visual package. People buy it because they want to see pictures of themselves and their friends, not because they are eager to read the copy. But…

26 WRITING YEARBOOK COPY created in conjunction with Lynn Strause Herff Jones Special Consultant 26

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