Writing good tags should be part of the journalist’s writing process

Tags are words or phrases that are related to a story. As the writer is composing the story, he or she should consider the words and phrases that a potential reader might use in a search engine to search for information on that topic. Those words and phrases can then be listed at the end of the story as tags.

Most content management systems (the software that supports and operates news websites and weblogs) have designated functions that allow writers and editors to list tags. And many web journalists today have gotten into the bad habit of ignoring that function. To ignore tags, however, is to miss out on a golden opportunity for a journalist or a news website to build an audience. Tags are part of the search engine optimization concept referred to earlier in this chapter.

At minimum, tags should include

  • all of the proper names and places referred to in your story;
  • major ideas and concepts of the subject of the story:
  • important actions and processes referred to in the story.

One technique for developing good tags is to pay attention to the way that you search for information and the way that your friends search for information. Think about how you would search for information on the topic on which you are reporting. That’s the place to start understanding tags.

Developing good tags gets easier with practice. The writer should think about tags as the writing is being done, not after it has been completed. If that happens, tags become an integral part of the writing process.

Note: A version of this essay will appear in the ninth edition of Writing for the Mass Media, which will be published in the summer of 2014 by Allyn and Bacon.

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About Jim Stovall

Jim Stovall, a retired journalism prof, is now a novelist, self publisher, watercolorist, gardener, woodworker and beekeeper -- among others things.

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