I read an article last night about how Associated Press wire editors are now limiting “daily, digital digest” stories to 300-500 words. This got me thinking.
As a writer, wordiness tends to easily become my forte. Yet, long form isn’t what most news readers want for text-based stories.
If you are more text-based as a reporter, like me, the following tricks (in no particular order) will help keep your writing concise, relevant and easier to edit. These tips came from editors in the professional world as well as The Shorthorn.
Start thinking about them as you write and you’ll build them into writing habits. By the way, practice is the only way to improve your writing. So, challenge yourself.
1. Write in active voice.
Ex: The sentence ‘The bag was picked up by John’ is in passive because the subject of the sentence, bag, is the passive receiver of the action.
Better: The sentence ‘John picked up the bag’ is in the active voice because the subject, John, is also the thing or person doing the action of ‘picking up.’
2. Facts don’t make good direct quotes. Simply state them with proper attribution.
3. If you can paraphrase a quote better than a person has said it, do so. If you can’t, then thoroughly consider whether it’s quote worthy.
4. Take out the word “that” in every sentence, as long as the sentence can stand alone without it.
5. If a fact isn’t relevant to the focus of your story, nix it or pull it into a text box of “more information” if you’re not sure.
Side Tip: Text boxes make great pull outs, highlighting important information without cramming it into the story.
Ex. If you’re writing a story about a girl starting a club to help people who stutter, build a sidebar of “Things you can do to help someone who stutters” or “Other places to get help with stuttering.” You get the idea.
6. If a person is a doctor, only use “Dr.” if it’s relevant to the story. Otherwise, no one cares if your source is a doctor, except the source and the source’s family. If a person has more than one title, use the title(s) directly related to the topic you’re writing about.
7. Words that bring extra emphasis to a statement don’t add much. So take them out, unless used in a direct quote.
I.E. “Really, very, much, quite, most, etc.” If the sentence can stand alone without emphasis, let it do so.
Ex. He really enjoyed the fair.
Ex. She likes ice cream much more than popsicles.
You either do or don’t like something, so state that.
8. Don’t start a sentence with “_____ said.” Put the attribution at the end to draw more attention to what your source said rather than the fact he or she said it.
9. “There is” or “There are” is a bad way to start a sentence. Try writing the sentence without that phrase.
Ex.: “There are several books that address the issue.”
Better: Several books address the issue.
10. If you say something in the transition paragraph before a direct quote, and the information also directly stated in the quote, you sound like a broken record. Cut. Out. Redundancy. Remember, every sentence should add new information.