Copy Tone

Step anywhere on campus or inside any of UCLA’s facilities and the feeling of optimism is palpable. The students, faculty and staff all share the notion that they can — and will — make a better tomorrow.

The tone of both the body copy and the headlines should echo this sentiment. Just as there are bright, upward-looking moments in the brand visuals, the copy must do this as well. The words should energize. The message should be empowering, uplifting and contain a progressive spirit.

  • Writing Compelling Headlines

    The headline is the lead-in to your story. It’s your selling point — what’s going to get the reader to commit. If your headline fails to engage your readers, 9 times out of 10 you’ll lose them. It doesn’t matter how compelling the rest of your story is; it will go unread.

    Often what bogs down a good headline is trying to cram too much information into it. The best headlines are fairly simple and convey a single idea. While a headline can contain a sense of irony, humor, drama, human truth or all four at once, there should be only one twist — one clever play that draws readers in and leaves them wanting to know more. If it takes more than a second or two to comprehend, it has failed to do its job.

    Compare these two headlines:

    In a city as diverse and culturally significant as Los Angeles, you’ll be exposed to a vast array of experiences that will make you more competitive in a global world
    It’s a lot easier to experience the world when it’s in your backyard

    See the difference? Essentially, we are conveying the same message in both, but the second is more concise even though the first line is technically more straightforward. Being straightforward is not necessarily a good thing in headline writing. It’s boring, forgettable and gives readers no reason to continue reading. If they have already gotten the whole story in the headline, why go any further? 

    Headlines for UCLA should demonstrate that it is a school unlike any other. They should be rooted in a sense of place while also capturing the spirit of the university. This is what will make the headlines feel uniquely UCLA.

    For example:

    At UCLA, 329 days of sunshine a year isn’t a forecast — it’s an outlook

    One final note on headlines: You are selling, so be creative. Have fun. But always be honest. And not just in the sense of telling the truth (which you should always do anyway), but speak to the reader as a person, not as a target or a demographic.

  • Varying the Tone of Body Copy

    Body copy is where personality and style can flex the most. There are six tone words that describe the personality of the UCLA brand:







    How you use these tones can vary. Think of them as an equalizer; you can increase or decrease their individual use depending on your audience.

    For example, when writing for an undergraduate audience, the tone and style should be at its most catalytic, vibrant and visionary:

    There is value in dissatisfaction. Stubbornness can actually bend. And refusing to acknowledge doesn’t mean you haven’t heard the call. In a world where you’re often told this is the way things are, maybe it’s time to rebel. Let’s refuse the status quo. Let’s think above the consensus. When the world says “no,” let’s say, “no problem.” This may sound optimistic, but optimism is not naïveté. It’s what allows us to see past the current landscape. Think about it: Before something becomes a reality, it probably started out as crazy. Therefore, when we’re not bound to what’s been established, we’re free to make history.

    When speaking to a professional or institutional audience, the tone and style should be more balanced, perseverant and cultured. That doesn’t mean it has to be flat; it is possible to write compelling copy that also clearly gets the message across:

    Three to five hours a day, three days a week — that’s the amount of time the average kidney-disease sufferer spends hooked up to a dialysis machine. Enter Drs. David B.N. Lee and Martin Roberts, professors of clinical medicine at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. Wanting to improve not only patients’ health but their quality of life, the two doctors created an artificial kidney that is worn like a belt underneath one’s clothing. Patients are now free from hospital beds, blood-thinners and the general servitude of traditional treatment.