Professional development and training blog of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA)
October 8, 2012

Why Be Creative? Interesting Copy Helps Readers Learn

Join Ann Wylie at PRSA 2012 International Conference in San Francisco on Monday, Oct. 15, for her breakout session, “Make Your Copy More Creative: Paint Pictures in Your Readers’ Minds.” You’ll learn how to bring your ideas to life through storytelling, metaphor and wordplay.

My husband likes to quote “anonymous”:

“If a man speaks in the forest, and no woman is there to hear him, is he still wrong?”

For communicators, the question is a little different. David Murray, editor of ContentWise, says:

“If nobody hears your strategic messaging, does it make a sound?”

The biggest risk in communications is not that we might offend someone or write something that’s eye-rollingly goofy. The biggest risk communicators face is that we never get heard at all.

One way to increase your chances of getting heard: Make Your Copy More Creative. Creative copy communicates more clearly, builds reader loyalty, creates a “buzz” for your topic — even enhances credibility.

Interesting copy gets the word out

In the early 19th century, German philosopher Johann Friedrich Herbart posed that readers understand, learn and remember more from interesting information.

For nearly 200 years since then, researchers, philosophers and communicators have made the link between interest and learning.

One of those researchers is Suzanne Hidi, associate member at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education’s Centre for Applied Cognitive Science. In “Interest and Its Contribution as a Mental Resource for Learning,” she reviews the research on how interesting information helps people learn.

Interesting copy, according to Hidi’s review of the literature:

  • Encourages reading (Hidi & Baird, 1986).
  • Improves comprehension (Hidi & Baird, 1986; Bernstein, 1955).
  • Aids in learning (Hidi & Baird, 1986; Shirey and Reynolds, 1988).
  • Helps people remember the information (Hidi & Baird, 1988).
  • Facilitates creativity by helping readers come up with fuller, better and more creative responses (Bernstein, 1955).

The same can’t be said for the boring blah-blah that too often passes for public relations and business communication.

Make your copy more creative

How can you make your copy more creative?

  • Add concrete details: Show, don’t just tell.
  • Describe it: Take readers to the scene.
  • Find a poster person: Bring your message to life with human interest.
  • Use humor: Make ’em laugh.
  • Try metaphor and analogy: Clarify complex copy with comparison.
  • Spice up your quotations: Write snappy sound bites.
  • Tell a story: Take advantage of “the most powerful form of human communication.”
  • Play with your words: Surprise and delight readers. But only if you want your messages to make a sound.

Ann Wylie, president, Wylie Communications, works with communicators who want to reach more readers and with organizations that want to get the word out. She travels from Hollywood to Helsinki, presenting writing workshops that help communicators at such organizations as NASA, AT&T and H&R Block polish their skills and find new inspiration for their work. For PRSA, she presents programs like “Writing That Sells — Products, Services and Ideas” in on-site sessions across the country.

Get a free subscription to her Writing Tips e-zine.

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