Writing Guidelines

by Anonymous
Oct 30, 2018 in Journalism Basics

1. Identify your subject and stick to it. Be clear which question or questions you are trying to answer. If a piece of information does not help in answering them, leave it out.

2. After writing each phrase or sentence, look at it through the reader's eyes and ask yourself, is it clear? Does it say what it was intended to say? Have you given the readers the necessary information to understand what you are telling them?

3. Think whether an expression or reference or name will be understood by your readers, or whether you need to define, explain, or identify.

4. Vary the length of sentences. But remember, short sentences are usually clearer.

5. Make sentences active, not passive.

6. Use examples. They make a story more interesting, and put information into a form readers can grasp more easily than abstract terms. Don't say a crowd "responded favorably" (or unfavorably) to a politician's speech; describe people cheering or booing or not paying attention, get quotes that show listeners' approval or disapproval.

7. Think of yourself as using a zoom lens: go from wide focus (broad theme or information) to narrow focus (example or detail).

8. Answer the question "So what?" Tell readers why the story is significant or interesting, what it will mean for them, and why it's worth reading. One journalist puts it this way: imagine yourself in the reader's shoes and ask, "Does it help me? Does it hurt me? Does it cost me money? Will it help my life? Would I get from it joy, pain, excitement, interest, misery, something?"

9. Keep the "voice" consistent. Don't use a very colloquial style in one place and formal language in another. News writing customarily is conversational but formal - that is, it uses formal grammar and vocabulary, but should sound conversational rather than academic.

10. Use familiar, common words; avoid technical terms and jargon.

11. Concrete words are always better than abstract words.

12. Descriptive verbs are better than bland, general verbs ("he plodded" or "he darted" instead of "he walked"; "he shouted" or "he murmured" instead of "he said").

13. Be specific ("he took a taxi" or "he took a train" instead of "he went").

14. Use quotes to add emotion and colorful language to your story.

15. Make every sentence count -- don't repeat information.

16. Eliminate unnecessary words.

17. News writing ordinarily does not use first person at all. In an essay or commentary that is written in the first person, use the pronouns "I" and "me" sparingly. They should appear often enough to establish a consistent voice (don't write half an essay without any reference to yourself and then suddenly introduce a sentence with "I"; it is disconcerting for the reader), but find ways to avoid repeating them any more often than is absolutely necessary to convey your meaning.

18. Put events, ideas, and quotes in logical order.

19. Try to write transitions from one theme to the next so the story flows smoothly instead of jumping from subject to subject.