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Community Work

How to Write a Poetic Tagline

“Miles to go before I sleep” is perhaps one of the most well-recognized lines of poetry for Americans. If you don’t recognize it, take heart, others you definitely will. “My love is like a red, red rose…” “…the shot heard ‘round the world”, “I, too, sing America.” What is in these simple lines that cause us to remember them?

What Rules?

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You might’ve been one of those high school students who desperately wanted to believe that it is impossible to judge good writing. It’s all subjective…you wanted to argue. But it’s not. There are rules that govern good writing—and they are why you remember those lines above. They are the same rules that create good taglines.

They are the reasons why “Just do it” is immediately recognized and understood. And why “Reveal the Full Potential in Every Student” is not.

Make It Short

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Let’s take a quick look at these two taglines. One difference between them is obvious with just a quick scan—the Nike tagline is short—the McGraw-Hill tagline is long. That’s the first rule: 1. Taglines should be short.

If you find that you can’t seem to whittle yours down, it’s likely because your idea is not clear to you yet. Brainstorming can help here. But I want to focus on the “storming” part. As you write—move fast. Fill your page quickly, grabbing every single idea that occurs to you. Do not edit as you go along. Your goal should be to make the connection between your thoughts and page instantaneous. You’ll have pages of oddball ideas, but one of them is the right one. It may not be as short as it needs to be yet, but it’s the seed to work with.

There could be one more reason your tagline is too long—it might be a cliché. The McGraw-Hill tagline also suffers from this problem. Have you ever known a school program that did NOT claim to reveal a child’s potential?

Make It Rhythmic

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Let’s keep going. “Just do it” is easy to say. It rolls off the tongue.

The other tagline I don’t even want to rewrite. It suffers from the same problem that Phoebe’s “Smelly Cat” song suffered from—lines smooshed into a confined space, without internal rhythm. So that’s rule #2: A good tagline should have rhythm. You don’t want a tagline that gets known for all the wrong reasons. Like that poor smelly cat…

Make It Melodic

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“Just do it” is also great because it sounds good. The ending ‘t’ snaps, and the ‘st’ in ‘just’ rolls easily into the ‘d’. The percussive sounds mimic the command itself—to get going! Perhaps you never really analyzed the words themselves—like your English teacher might’ve asked you to do. But that’s the third reason why it works, and brings us to the final rule: #3. Good taglines resonate with pleasing sound.

Storm Your Brain!

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Do your taglines meet these 3 criteria? If they don’t, storm your brain longer. Say the trial versions out loud and listen to their sound. Snap your fingers while you say them out loud to find their rhythm.

For that math book, let’s imagine the book cover with a large title–Reveal. Under the title, this tagline: Tools for Teachable Moments.

Does it meet the 3 criteria now? What do you think?

The lines of poetry above, in order: Robert Frost, “Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening.” Robert Burns, “A Red, Red Rose.” Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Concord Hymn.” Langston Hughes, “I, Too.”

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