As a former news editor for my college paper, I’ve found that one of the most common and costly mistakes new student journalists make is writing their news stories like they would write an essay for class. I’ve done the same when I first started writing for my college paper. However, there is no surer way in losing your readers than by opting for an academic writing style and format in your news stories.
Newspaper audiences are generally in a hurry and not completely attentive. Those who read online are even more likely to be distracted. You will lose readers if you weigh your writing down with academic jargon and long, chunky paragraphs—elements common in academic papers.
As students, we were trained in academic writing long before we even began writing for our school newspapers. So, it comes as no surprise that many student journalists find it difficult to transition into a completely different writing style.
Below are a few ways new student journalists use academic writing style in their news writing. I outline simple ways you can prevent academic writing style from creeping into your news writing.
1. Writing long Paragraphs. While paragraphs in academic papers and essays for class are usually five to eight sentences long, paragraphs in news writing are only about two sentences. You can get away with having a three-sentence paragraph in a news story if the sentences are not lengthy. Keep in mind, though, that paragraphs in feature stories are typically longer than those found in hard news stories.
2. Including citations. While citations are expected in academic papers, they are not consistent with AP (Associated Press) Style. If you’re including research or data into your article, you can simply say, “According to the Gallup Poll,…” etc.
3. Wordiness. Wordiness in news stories is something I often encountered when I was a news editor. I find that long sentences are the root of wordiness in writing. If you shorten your sentences, you can cut wordiness from your news stories. As a general rule of thumb, aim for a sentence that is no longer than one to one and a half line(s) in length (unless the sentence is a quote).
4. Using Jargon/Advanced Vocabulary. The audience for many professional newspapers (excluding the New York Times, perhaps) consists of readers who many not have advanced degrees and/or are busy working professionals looking for a quick read. So, it’s best to opt for clear and direct writing when working on your news stories. Save the jargon and thesaurus for your college papers.
Have you seen some of these blunders at your own college, or even professional, newspaper? Let me know in the comments below!