Journalism and Mass Communication © Kalyani Suresh


Journalistic Writing

Good journalism has always been associated with competent writing and competent writing has always required an easy command of correct language and style. The style of a writer is an involuntary and intimate expression of his personality. The writer should match the mood of the audience. Style must be most unobtrusive.

There are many ground rules for good writing. For example, good writing follows the ABCD principle: Accuracy, Brevity, Conciseness and Directness. A careful writer must remember the distinction between denotation (direct meaning) and connotation (suggested meaning). The use of active voice should be avoided as it leads to brevity. The use of prepositions leads to the danger of circumlocution. The principle of innate selection and control of words most appropriate to the context must be followed.

Today's Style
Newspaper style in recent years has moved increasingly in the direction of uncluttered writing. Simple, direct sentences are desired. Complex and compound sentences may provide the best vehicle for thought under certain circumstances, but also increase the probability of ambiguity. The desire for economy in words has produced tight, swiftly paced writing that has proved to be a boon to newspaper reading. Loose writing is inefficient writing that leads to wasting of words.
Tight writing is characterized by the absence of 'breaks' (commas etc.) in the flow of simple sentences. But tightening that leads to omitting should not be overdone.

Today's journalistic style has the following characteristics:

Compact, usually short sentences, every word selected and placed for maximum effect.
Short, terse paragraphs, each complete in itself and capable of being removed without destroying the sense of the story.
Conciseness, directness and simplicity through elimination of unnecessary words and phrases
Factualness without editorial opinions and dogmatic expressions
'Strong' verbs and nouns preferred over hackneyed words and expressions
Observance of grammatical and word usage rules.


The objective of effective journalistic writing should be to avoid cumbersomeness without becoming repetitive. Relaxing the rule that all of the 5 W's and H (Who, Why, What, Where, When and How) must be included in the first paragraph of the news story leads to uncluttered writing.

Superfluous Words

The articles the, a and an can be eliminated, as

Weak: The Harvard students who heard the lecture...
Better: Harvard students who heard the lectur...

The sentences may be shortened and made more forceful by making the verbs more direct, as:

Weak: The group arrived at a decision.
Better: The group decided.

Weak: They did away with the old building.
Better: They razed the old building.

In their Art of Editing (MacMillan, 1972) Floyd Baskette and Jack Sissors list 48 'pet' circumlocutions that can be reduced to save 100 words. Some of them are listed below:
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) etc….

It is not necessary to include the state with the names of large cities, or to mention the state with the name of the city in the same state as the place where the newspaper is published.

Weak: She lives in Los Angeles, California
Better: She lives in Los Angeles.


Vague: He lives in Catskill.
Clear: He lives in Catskill, Pennsylvania

Don't waste words in giving dates, as:

Weak: The meeting will be held at 12 o' clock noon.
Better: The meeting will be held at noon.

Superfluous Phrases

Weak: The meeting was held for the purpose of voting for the Chairman.
Better: The meeting was held to vote for the Chairman.

Weak: The colour of the dress was red
Better: The dress was red.

Weak: A baby with brown eyes.
Better: A brown-eyed baby

Superfluous Clauses:

Weak: All women who are interested should come.
Better: All interested women should come.

Weak: John Donne, who is the President of the Engineer's club, will be there.
Better: John Donne, President of the Engineer's club will be there.


The following is a short list of redundant words commonly used:
1- assemble together
2- carbon copy
3- each and every
4- necessary requirement
5- first and foremost
6- other alternative
7- totally necessary
8- small in size
9- postpone until later
10- rules and regulations etc……


This is obtained by avoiding 'elegant' words:

1- About is better than with reference to
2- agreement is better than concordance
3- burned is better than destroyed by fire
4- if is better than in the event of
5- meeting is better than rendezvous and so on.

Active and Passive Voice:

The active voice is usually more emphatic than passive voice. However, sometimes the later is preferred to the former:

e.g: Henry Stroke has been appointed chairman of the Republican campaign committee.

In other cases, the active voice is preferable:

e.g.: Weak: The accident was witnessed by ten people
Better: Ten people witnessed the accident.

Figures Of Speech:

The following are examples of age-old figures of speech that should be avoided as they are likely to be misused and mark their user as callow.
1- alike as peas in a pod
2- nipped in the bud
3- hail of bullets
4- watery grave
5- white as a sheet and so on


Newspapers have exhausted the effectiveness of a number of words through indiscriminate repetition. Such words as follows should be avoided:
1- hot seat
2- brutally murdered
3- man hunt
4- crime wave
5- infuriated mob
6- war clouds
7- whirlwind tour
8- quiz
9- grilled by the police
10- news leaked out and so on


Pretentious phrasing or gobbledygook scares the reader away from the story, for e.g.

National Association for Advancement of Gay People's Rights attorneys told the Supreme Court today that overt public resistance is insufficient cause to nullify federal court desegregation orders.

Readability Formulas

Shortly after World War II, the two major press associations and several magazines and newspapers experimented with readability formulas that stressed brevity. The Associated Press reduced its average lead sentence length from 27 to 23 words. The United Press simplified its writing style to be suitable for readers with 11.7 years of education, whereas formerly it was writing for readers who had gone to school 16.7 years.


A lead is the first paragraph or introduction of a news story that gives the summary of the news to follow. Different kinds of leads can be used to make the news story readable and interesting. Some of the different kinds of leads are:

1- The 5 W's and one H: As already mentioned earlier in the chapter, the who, why, what, where, when and how of the news need not be mentioned all together. A judicious use of the necessary W's and H makes this kind of lead interesting.

2- The Quotation Lead: In reporting speeches, public statements, etc. it is always better to typify the feature in the reporter's own words rather than by a direct quotation, e.g. :
Weak: "A sharp decline in mortality rates, medical progress and greater economic prosperity have enabled welfare agencies to solve most of their problems except that of the emotionally disturbed child", Horace V. Updike, Council of Social Welfare director said yesterday.
Better: "The emotionally disturbed child is the 'No. 1 problem' facing welfare agencies today, Horace V. Updike, Council Of Welfare director, said yesterday."

3- The Question Lead: Ordinarily a reporter should answer, not ask questions in his news stories. To do otherwise merely delays telling the news, as in the case of a lead beginning, "What causes emotional apathy?" followed by a summary of a new idea advanced by some authority on the subject.

4- The Staccato Lead: When the time element is to be emphasized, this lead is used. It consists of a series of phrases, punctuated either by periods or dashes and usually is a form of descriptive lead. E.g.: Almost thirty years ago-back in 1973-in a different era-in a different life, after years of happiness in her simple home, the light went out of Mrs X's life -she became stone blind. Torturous, long years passed and suddenly her prayers were answered - Mrs X could see.

5- The Explosive Lead: Similar to the Staccato lead but consisting of grammatically complete sentences, the explosive lead is usually used for feature articles.

6- The Dialogue Lead: Minor court stories with strong human interest can be handled effectively by this kind of lead. The lead consists of the dialogue between two people and then followed by a summary or play-by-play account of the event.

7- The Cartridge Lead: When war is declared or ends, when a famous personality dies or on similar important occasions, it is customary to tell the gist of the news in the fewest possible words. E.g. Mayor Charles Canterbury is dead. This style should not be frequently used but reserved for special occasions.

8- The Punch Lead: Similar to the Cartridge lead but not so abrupt or definite is the Punch lead.

9- The Descriptive Lead: A graphic description of a person, place or object to give the tone or feeling necessary for proper understanding and appreciation. The best descriptive leads are written by eyewitnesses.

10- The Parody Lead: Popular songs, titles of best-sellers, newly coined phrases etc. may be used while still fresh, usually in parodied form to brighten an occasional news story lead.


Review Quiz


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