The phrase ‘compelling copy’ is everywhere now and the biggest users of it seem to be the communications community. It’s so prolific that it’s become a subject of self-mockery among communicators.
One cartoon I saw recently doing the rounds featured a parent reading some ‘compelling copy’ to a child in bed – in place of a bedtime story.
Why do we use this phrase? It really doesn’t make sense.
When the phrase is included in a headline eg. ‘How to craft compelling copy’ it doesn’t work. Sure there’s some catchy alliteration, but it’s like writing about how to improve your spelling when the headline itself is spelt incorrectly.
The problem is that ‘compelling copy’ is a contradiction in terms. It’s a communications cliché, a worn-out phrase devoid of meaning. It achieves the very opposite effect of that which was intended. Not compelling at all.
The implicit message conveyed is that engaging copy is not part of the deal – what’s really on offer is more cliché and impenetrable jargon.
Communications role modelling
It’s very possible that we can help people improve their communication skills if we role model the way we want people to act. Writing skills are no exception. It’s about using the correct method and demonstrating your point by actually doing it yourself.
When I think back to starting out as a journalist, I remember that trainee reporters began their careers by using clichés to help develop their sentence structure and phraseology. This was fine up to a point and enabled those new to the industry to find their feet. But once they’d learned the basics of their craft they went on to develop both a breadth and depth of writing style.
Of course, there’s a time and place for cliché and jargon and it can provide a means to quickly embed yourself into a culture and to demonstrate shared ideas and values. But this is not one of those times.
If we’re advising others on how to improve writing skills then perhaps a different approach is required.
Do you work in communications or public relations? Get ideas, inspiration and motivation by subscribing for free to receive communication blog posts by email – click to subscribe.