Journalistic writing is very different from other types of writing. From writing in third person to keeping stories objective, there are certain rules journalists must follow that deviate from the typical English essay. Here are a few of the most common mistakes we see in submissions to our monthly contests. Keep an eye out for these next time you are submitting an entry.
Forget the Oxford comma
As someone who loves all things literature, this AP style rule makes me sad. But AP style refrains from using the Oxford comma. So, when you’re writing about a series of events, don’t place a comma before the and/or.
Example: The women marched for equality, diversity and inclusion.
NOT: The women marched for equality, diversity, and inclusion.
Write in third person
Unless you are writing a column (or blog post like I am), refrain from using first or second person. You shouldn’t be addressing the reader directly and using “you/your,” nor should you be aligning yourself with the reader and using words like, “we/our.” In order to remain objective, journalists must keep themselves out of stories, which means third person is the only point of view you should be using.
Example: Rydell High has a large population of students who appear older than they really are.
NOT: At Rydell High, we have a large population of students who appear older than they really are.
Limit the use of rhetorical questions
When I was in high school, my adviser told me that I got two headlines with rhetorical questions in my entire lifetime. He also said that they should be used sparingly in stories. If you have one rhetorical question in one story in every publication you print, that is still too much. Rhetorical questions are for book reports and speeches, but they do not belong in news stories — especially a basic news story.
Example: Rydell High is currently the most diverse high school in the surrounding area.
NOT: How diverse do you think Rydell High is? You might be surprised to hear that Rydell High is the most diverse high school in the surrounding area.
Write in active voice
Avoid using phrases such as “they were protesting,” as this is passive. Instead, say “they protested.” Eliminated the be/being and was/were words from the sentence whenever possible.
Example: The seniors practiced for graduation in the auditorium.
NOT: The seniors were practicing for graduation in the auditorium.
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