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Writing for Chimes 101

Photo by Lisa Beth Anderson.

Photo by Lisa Beth Anderson.

What are some basic journalism tips?

Writing a news article isn’t like writing an academic paper. While your professor is paid to read your entire paper, our readers are just a click away from Facebook. It’s our job to get them the information they need as quickly and clearly as possible as well as maintaining their interest.

Never written in this style? Don’t worry about it! With just a few things to keep in mind, you’ll soon be writing like a journalist.

Inverted pyramid

Put most of your information at the beginning of your article. Don’t make people read to the end of your article to find out who won the Calvin-Hope game — make that your first sentence or two! Since many people skim news articles, write each paragraph so that if it’s the last one people read, they’ll still get the sense of the story. In fact, people should be able to read just your first sentence and know what the story’s about. This doesn’t mean you can be lazy with the rest of your article, though. Reward people who read to the end by fleshing out the story more completely.

No first person

When you’re writing news, people don’t want to know what you think, they want to know what happened. Thus, avoid using “I,” “me,” and “we.” Detachment is important for credibility and also for avoiding the trap of editorializing the news.

No editorializing

There is a place for editorials: the op-ed page. When you’re writing about a concert, don’t say it was “good” or “bad,” because those definitions are objective. If you’re covering a student senate decision, keep your opinions on the decision to yourself. As a journalist, your job is to report news without bias. That doesn’t mean you can’t have any opinions in your articles, it just means you need to attribute those opinions to someone else. One excellent way to do that is with quotes.

Integrate quotes

Quotes are your best friend. Skillfully chosen, they will almost write your article for you. Articles that use quotes to convey information are also much more interesting to read. But gathering the right quotes takes practice on your part. Research your topic before you interview so you know which questions to ask. Be polite and professional with your subject. When you are interviewing, write down quotes word for word, or use a tape recorded and transcribe the interview later. Accuracy is key.

When you’re deciding which quotes to use, look for short summaries of information that show personality. Don’t quote someone saying something you could have easily written yourself. Choose quotes with opinions, startling statements, or humor — things that you avoid in the rest of your article. You’ll write the facts, but let the quotes convey the tone you want your article to take. Also, take risks with who you interview. Avoid the temptation of only interviewing your friends.

Active voice

Cut the passive voice from your writing. Don’t ever say, “decisions were made.” Who made the decisions?  Subjects and verbs should march authoritatively across every sentence in your story.

Simple sentences

You should know how to use semicolons correctly, but if they’re showing up in every sentence, your writing is probably too dense. Simple sentences convey information clearly and neatly. If you can say something in fewer words and still be understood, do so.

Avoid plagiarism

Always attribute your sources. Don’t copy and paste from any website or email without putting it in quotation marks and saying where you found it. Make sure that you quote people accurately and even in a pinch, don’t ever, ever make up quotes.

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For some examples, check out some stories on our website or flip through a print edition of Chimes. And remember, the best way to learn how to write is by jumping in and giving it a try! You’ll be writing like a pro before you know it. We can’t wait to read your work!