Another dot in the blogosphere?

Teaching kids to write copy

Posted on: June 28, 2016

If I mention “writing copy”, you might think of one or more people creating persuasive content for marketing or advertising. However, this form of writing is important for anyone who uses social media.

On Twitter, in particular, the copy must grab eyeballs and encourage click-throughs. Bloggers, newspapers, and anyone promoting anything in 140 characters needs the message to be juicy and concise.

Googling “writing good copy” will return almost countless writing tips. Good examples are important; bad examples even more so. Here is a screenshot of a bad tweet by TODAYonline.

Why is #IKEA causing children to fall down stairs? #ambiguous #english

A photo posted by Dr Ashley Tan (@drashleytan) on

The tweet means that IKEA caused some children to fall down stairs and then recalled a product. It meant to say that IKEA recalled faulty product for a lapse in safety. So why did it not just say that?

There does not seem to be anything grammatically wrong with the tweet. Some might not even see the problem with the tweet. So why make a mountain out of a molehill?

That is the wrong question and perspective. Why ignore the mountain and play it down as a molehill?

Cast a more critical eye on most public notices and you will see what I mean. The gaffes are a dime a dozen. For example:

Bad #English, cannot stand. Was #Yoda his/her English teacher?

A photo posted by Dr Ashley Tan (@drashleytan) on

A new death penalty in #Singapore? #BirdHangingCorner for terrorist fowl that "bomb" our cars?

A photo posted by Dr Ashley Tan (@drashleytan) on

Examine the next email you receive from an administrator, preferably one from the public sector, and you will might get “revert back”, “gentle reminder”, “kindly reply”, and other unquestioned but questionable use of the language.

When some people talk about communication being a 21st century skill, what they might mean is that the learner and worker of today needs to leverage on technology not just to exchange information, but also to do it well. This could mean reducing noise, making compelling arguments, and rallying people around a cause.

Are we teaching the learner of today and showing the worker of tomorrow how to do this?

If a local use-of-English book promotes “revert” in place of “reply”, I cannot blame the users and learners of the language. They were not taught or mentored any other way.

So why are we not teaching our children to write good copy?

By this I do not mean learning only the rules of grammar and syntax, filling in blanks, writing out of context, or answering questions based on experiences that you cannot relate to.

Instead, I am referring to writing for Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, or Twitter. I am talking about scripting for YouTube, Vine, or Periscope. I am even referring to the now “old school” forms of digital writing like email and blogging.

I do not mean using old rules and strategies like writing email on paper. I do not mean replacing writing with keyboarding (although that has its merits).

I mean first being immersed in the writing that happens today, embracing its use, identifying its problems, and offering solutions. By learning language this way, I also mean going beyond the rules of communicating and factoring in social, ethical, and other values.

I can already hear the objections of teachers who depend on centralised curricula and localised planning. It takes too long. It is too difficult. The contexts are too varied.

The same could be said for values-based education, but we now have CCE, Character and Citizenship Education [PDF].

Learning to write copy and for current contexts should not take more effort than reading one’s social media feed and sharing some thoughts. Imagine a teacher starting every language class with a few examples fresh from her Twitter stream. Better still, imagine students curating these resources. Now imagine designing and writing around these lesson seeds.

If we do not teach our kids how to write meaningfully, we risk more than unintentionally funny tweets. We risk becoming bad communicators. Do we take that risk or do we shoulder that responsibility?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Click to see all the nominees!

QR code

Get a mobile QR code app to figure out what this means!

My tweets


Usage policy

%d bloggers like this: