So said Ernest Hemingway, a flawed talent and prolific writer with the good sense to understand that, no matter how successful or well-recognised, there is always room for self-improvement. Here are some of the key areas and pointers on how journalists can improve their writing, crowd-sourced from Twitter followers and our own discerning eye.
The ultimate aim of journalism should be to tell a story as clearly and concisely as possible.
@journalismnews Always ask yourself: "Could I say the same thing without as many words?". If so, edit without fear.— Georgia Lewis (@georgialewis76) July 3, 2013
At journalism site News College, Gregg McLachlan has put together an excellent collection of practical journalism tips. The first on the list for writing? These 10 tips for tightening your copy.
Clichés and Tautologies
Clichés don't just mark a lack of originality but can signal an inherent laziness and disregard for the job. There are times when journalists don't realise what they are writing is another tired, old phrase – or the looming deadline and brooding editor leave little space for pondering canny witticisms – but reading clichés sets off a klaxon in the mind of all copy editors.
Here is a list of "groaners" from newswriting.com, while many of our Twitter followers were on hand to offer personal horror stories. "The rain didn't dampen the spirits" had a few mentions; starting a story with "I am sat at the table..." or "I am stood in Leicester Square..." was another cringer, as were tautological phrases like "first ever" and "fellow countryman", resulting in the spectacularly awful offering above.
Spelling, grammar and punctuation
The backbone to any good writing can still prove to be a weakness for some journalists but believing errors should be cleared up by the subs doesn't cut it in the digital age.
With blogging and the necessary evil of personal brand development comes a responsibility to look after your own work, so here are some guides on punctuation for journalists, an essential resource for grammar and some of the most common spelling mistakes made in English.
Style and structure
House style will differ between various news organisations and media outlets but there are some basic tenets which should underpin every story: a good lead and a traceable structure. Not only will this help the reader to follow the story but it will focus the mind of the writer to produce good copy more quickly. Here is some advice from the Purdue Online Writing Lab on leads and the University of Texas on structure.
Writing for the web is very different to writing for print. Page dimensions, attention spans, consumption contexts, audience expectations, reader motivations; all will differ between the two forms of media. So it follows that writing style should also be different.
Thankfully, data journalist Caroline Beavon put together a list of "crimes" when it comes to writing on the internet that deserves to be bookmarked.
Listen to this podcast
In 2006, LA Times editor Steve Padilla gave an incredibly popular writing workshop to reporters at the Chicago Tribune. Tribune's features reporter Kevin Pang would get regular requests for a recording of the workshop from his colleagues and last year it went up, with Padilla's permission, on Pang's site. Well worth listening to on the commute.
Thanks to @HER1902, @TaraVallente, @Josh_No90, @georgialewis76, @kakulprasher, @83ste, @sharpsecret, @lastworduk, @armiegarde, @CumbriaPR, @Mercury_Alex, @ScottMitchell89 and @jamespozzi for their tips and inspiration. For further training – excusing the shameless plug – see this Journalism.co.uk course on freelance feature writing and feel free to contribute any of your own tips and resources below.
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