Can Cartoon Caption Contests Make You a Better Writer?


Peter Boumgarden, a college marketing professor, uses the weekly New Yorker cartoon caption contest (the cartoon above is his favorite) to generate lively class discussions on language and meaning.

Boumgarden believes that cultivating the discipline of writing is one practice toward clear and creative thinking, and that returning every week to the journey from an image to an idea to a punchy joke is a great way to train playful and disciplined thinking.

I’ve entered a few different cartoon caption contests in the past couple of years, including the The New Yorker as well as the Harvard Business Review. I’ve never made it as a finalist, but I do agree with Boumgarden that trying to write a caption is a great way to focus your attention and to learn to use words effectively and efficiently in order to elicit an emotion from the reader.

So in honor of Steve Jobs line that  “Good artists copy, great artists steal”, I think I’ll steal Professor Boumgarden’s idea and try this with my students in the fall.

If you’re curious, here is the link to this week’s New Yorker contest:



and here is the current Harvard Business Review contest (although the deadline for entering has already passed):


And as Boumgarden notes, “And if, in the end, what results is merely a future of business with a splash of New Yorker humor, then I would venture we still all come out ahead.”

I couldn’t agree more.

2 thoughts on “Can Cartoon Caption Contests Make You a Better Writer?

  1. I agree with Boumgarden – and with you. How brave to enter the contests, even if you haven’t been a finalist (yet). I think any creative endeavor such as this is good in so many ways.

    I’m headed for bed but will save the articles you linked to. They sound like good reads.

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