General rules of writing
1. The best way to learn broadcast style is to listen to radio deejays and television anchors/reporters.
2. Write clearly. Read copy aloud to hear how it sounds.
3. Use conversational style—simple and direct.
4. Transitions are necessary, but pay close attention to how natural they sound in the broadcast.
5. Use active voice.
6. Emphasize the latest news of a continuing story, but give necessary background early to provide context for the story. The rule is that every story should stand on its own.
7. Use present tense, but don’t belabor it. Not every story must sound as if it just happened moments before the newscast.
8. Don’t cram too much information into the lead. The 5 W’s and H lead (from the print media) will confuse audience. Try for a softer lead with non-essential facts that get audience’s attention to the story but are not too complex.
9. At the same time, don’t underestimate your audience and talk down to them.
10. Keep sentences short (easier for broadcaster to say and easier for listener to follow) and economical (give necessary info in as few words as possible).
11. Avoid highly technical words, professional jargon, clichés and obfuscation by bureaucrats.
12. Avoid sexism in pronouns.
13. Find the lead, then tell story chronologically.
14. Answer logical questions, and if you don’t know the answer, say so but do not ignore the question.
15. Use humor sparingly. Humor often muddles the distinction between a serious subject and a lighthearted one.
II. Mechanics of style and grammar
1. Contractions:Use them because that’s how we speak. Be careful when contracting “not”—n’t is not always discernible to the audience and can create serious miscommunication.
2. “Says”: In broadcast more than print it is necessary not to overuse a word. Some suggestions for replacement:
acknowledge convey claims
admit recount confirm
declare state explain
*note=see Be Careful entry below for warning against using in improper context.
3. BE CAREFUL! The following words have more than one meaning and must not be used improperly:
accident= Accidents happen all the time, but so do intentional acts. Don’t predetermine cause by a haphazard word choice.
admit= Other than meaning to grant entrance, the word means to concede or confess and implies acknowledgement of wrongdoing.
claim= Claim means to demand or assert a right (generally used in legal context).
elderly= This may be viewed as a negative. Use only for people 65 years of age and above—and even then, use carefully.
ghetto= Don’t use lightly. This is a section of the city overwhelmingly inhabited by members of a minority group and/or a minority group that has been forced to live in that section.
guerrilla, insurgent, rebel= Guerrilla fighters generally employ hit-and-run tactics; insurgents or rebels fight against the government generally and are more appropriate terms to use in most cases.
illegal= Use only in reference to a violation of law.
leftist, rightist, radical= Use more precise political descriptions. These are at best subjective terms as are conservative, left, right, moderate. Also, a radical wants upheaval of the existing government, so be particularly careful.
sanction, sanctions= Sanction, as a verb or noun, means authoritative approval. Sanctions, as a noun, usually in international law, refers to efforts of one or more countries to force another to change some policy. When speaking, be sure to make the distinction clear.
survey= Only use this word if there has been an actual survey.
4. Common problems. The following list represent some of the most misused, misunderstood or mispronounced words by broadcasters. Be sure to articulate words accurately so they cannot be misunderstood as another word with a different meaning. Also, make sure the word you say, is the one you mean!
accept, except= accept is to take; except is to exclude
allude, refer= allude is to speak of something indirectly; refer is to speak of directly
allusion, illusion= allusion is a casual reference to something; illusion means to create a false impression
boycott, embargo= boycott involves an organized refusal to buy, use or participate in something; embargo involves a government-imposed restriction on trade
die, kill= all people eventually die; some people are killed
emigrate, immigrate= emigrate means to leave a country to settle elsewhere; immigrate means to enter a country from the outside.
ensure, insure= unless you’re speaking about insurance, the proper word is ensure
irregardless= not a word, use regardless instead
rebut, refute= rebut means to argue against with evidence; refute means to prove wrong
toward= not towards
whether or not= should almost always be just whether
5. Names, titles, initials:
a) Do not begin a sentence with an unknown name unless preceded by an identifying title
b) Drop middle and first initials from names
c) No courtesy titles (except for clarifications)
d) Long, involved titles should follow a name
e) Professional titles may be used on first reference
6. Beware of personal pronouns. Make sure no doubt as to the reference.
7. Attribution at the beginning of the sentence or as a break in the sentence, but never at the end.
8. Direct quotes:
a) Use phrases to tell reader of a direct quote (ie: The senator attacks what he calls—”Needless and irresponsible use of federal powers.”)
b) Use sparingly
c) Avoid quotes with “I” or “we”
d) Use neutral verbs—says, declares—to avoid editorial flavor where not indicated by speaker
9. Make sure location of story is clear.
UPI Stylebook, Third Edition: The Authoritative Handbook for Writers, Editors and News Directors. Lincolnwood, Illinois: National Textbook Company, 1992.
Popper, Robert A. Broadcast News Writing Stylebook. Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1995.
By Laurie Lattimore
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