Writing in a journalistic style is not a skill all college students get to learn; however, it is definitely useful regardless of the career field one chooses. We’re so used to writing paragraph after paragraph, citing sources, formatting bibliographies, and making sure we meet the page or word count requirement. Journalism is different. The basic rules of English still must be followed, and there is a certain format and writing style used. Here are a few tips and tricks to help you understand the difference between writing an essay and an article:
Do not, I repeat, DO NOT use superfluous words, phrases or information.
Journalists need to understand that not every member of their audience has the same level of education, so simple language should be used. For example, you may not see the word “superfluous” in an article, but you may see “excessive” or “unnecessary.”
In addition, readers don’t always have the time to sit down and read every minute detail about an event, so a journalist must write the most important facts (preferably at the beginning of the story), keeping the story short and sweet, but long enough that the reader can piece together what happened and make sense of it.
Paragraphs in articles are generally no longer than a couple of sentences, although in more in-depth pieces, they can be around four or five sentences long.
Here are a few phrases that are redundant or can be shortened in articles, and their replacement words are in parentheses (from Flyod Baskette and Jack Sissors):
- A good part (much)
- A little less than (almost)
- Accidentally stumbled (stumbled)
- Disclosed for the first time (disclosed)
- Jewish Rabbi (Rabbi)
- Due to the fact that (because)
- Easter Sunday (Easter)
- Entered a bid of (bid)
- Grand total (total)
- In the immediate vicinity (near)
Style and Formatting
The Associated Press has specific style notes that journalists follow. Here are a few:
- Numbers– When describing someone’s age, use figures. Otherwise, generally anything under 10 is spelled out, even street addresses (e.g., Sixth Street).
- DO NOT start a sentence with a number, unless it is a year (e.g., 1920 was a great year for dancing).
- Use Roman numerals to describe wars and important people, such as World War II, Pope Benedict XVI, Queen Elizabeth II, etc.
- Dates– Use numbers for years and days. DO NOT add st, nd, rd, or th at the end of them. If a month does not include a date, spell it out completely, otherwise use the following abbreviations: Jan., Feb. Aug., Sept., Oct., Nov., and Dec. (Those not listed are spelled out with dates, e.g., Feb. 14, July 21, Dec. 25). Write out days of the week; do not abbreviate them.
- When describing decades or centuries, do not use an apostrophe between the year and the ‘s’ at the end (e.g., 1990s, the ‘60s, etc.)
- Names– The first time you mention a person in a story, ALWAYS use his or her first and last name. Any time you refer to him or her afterwards, use just the last name. Avoid using titles like Mr., Mrs., Miss, or Ms. unless they are in a quotation.
- Cities– There are a list of 30 cities that do not require state names after them, two of which are Baltimore and Washington, D.C. The other 28 are available here.
Gatlung and Ruge give some insight as to how the gatekeepers of news (those who pick which stories need to be written) choose stories. First, the story must be relevant. If the Orioles beat the Yankees in the ALCS, sports fans would want to hear about that immediately, not two days after it happened. Though it would still be news two days later, it has more relevance the sooner it is printed (which ties in with timeliness).
Additionally, gatekeepers sometimes choose softer (or what I call “feel good”) stories to balance out the harder, investigative pieces. Unfortunately, a lot of our news is negative, with shootings happening almost daily across the nation, robberies, car accidents, etc., and that is what keeps a reader’s attention. Journalists need to be aware of the nature of the stories they write so they can keep the public more informed.
Final thoughts: use complete sentences, avoid comma splices, and always, always, ALWAYS report the facts as accurately as possible. Before you know it, writing articles will be as easy as writing a 5-page research paper.
-Kelsey, peer tutor