Keys to good journalistic writing

1) Keep paragraphs short. Most should be one or two sentences long. Quotations that form a complete sentence should get a graf of their own. Use the inverted pyramid formula for most hard news stories.

2) Keep sentences short. Sentences should average about 16 words in length. Make sure leads are short (19-26 words) and uncomplicated. Subject-verb-object construction in active voice is best.

Vary sentence lengths and patterns to give pacing and avoid monotony and choppiness. Avoid compound sentences, especially those connected with semicolons. Count out words and phrases that don't add meaning. Avoid passive voice, which is usually wordy. (However, sometimes passive voice is needed to express newsworthiness -- i.e., President Kennedy was killed today in Dallas by a gunman with a rifle.)

3) Use simple vocabulary. Short, common words are the best. Avoid foreign expressions and jargon and cliches. Explain technical terms. Use adjectives and adverbs only when they are crucial.

4) Be objective. Especially in hard news, don't express your opinion. Avoid words (including attributing words) that express a value judgment. Report only what can be proven to be true. Present all sides fairly.

5) Follow style rules. Rules established by AP (among others) add consistency and therefore clarity. When words are not in the stylebook, check their spelling in Webster's New World Dictionary (or latest New International Dictionary).

6) Be clear. It is not always enough to be brief. Sometimes it is necessary to say things more clearly by adding material. Clarity and completeness go together.

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Updated 2012; corrected Dec. 2013