We get a lot of requests from our students asking for tips about writing good, clear English. So from time to time we are going to post an article here about an aspect of writing that will be of interest to our members and students, especially those students studying the English4Today Online Writing Courses. Today, I’m going to give you some tips about writing interesting and readable news stories and blog postings.

Although writing news stories may not seem that difficult, it does, like any type of writing, take thought and practice … and then some more practice and then, when that’s done, a little more practice! These tips won’t make an instant Pulitzer Prize winning journalist out of you but they will help … with that other magic ingredient … practice … to write better, clearer and more readable stories and topical blog articles.

The Five “W”s and the “H”

At the heart of any journalistic article or topical news blog you need to answer 5 key questions for your readers:

Who? What? Where? When? Why? How?

Good news stories will answer these questions in a clear and concise way. When you are planning your article or story always ask yourself if you are answering these key questions.

For example, if you are covering a story about a local politician running for election you will need to answer these questions:

  • Who is the politician? Who are the opponents? Who is backing the politician? Who are the community supporters?
  • What party does he/she belong to? What are their policies and politics? What is the current projected outcome of the election? What changes are they promising to make? What are they identifying as key issues?
  • Where is the election (local, national, international etc.)? Where is the politician’s electorate and ‘home ground’?
  • When is the election? How long has the politician been preparing their campaign?
  • Why is he/she running for office? Why is the election being held?
  • How will he/she change the political landscape after their election? How are they running their campaign? How much experience does she/he have in politics?

The Inverted Pyramid

Place the most important facts at the beginning and work “down” from there elaborating the detail from the initial facts that you have provided. The first paragraph should provide enough information to give the reader a good overview of the entire story and ‘hook’ them into wanting to read more. The rest of the article will explain and expand on the beginning.

Think like an editor: Will the story still work if you cut everything except the first few paragraphs? If not, re-arrange it so that it does. If the first few paragraphs says it all, perhaps you do not need to elaborate further. Be tough on your story and cut out anything that is not necessary.

Remember, a story is …

  • About People
    News stories are all about how people are affected by events and actions. In the election story above, you might spend time focusing on how the politician’s proposals may change the lives of one or more individuals and use some interview materials to back this up.
  • Have an Angle
    Most stories can be presented using a particular angle or “slant”. This is a standard technique and isn’t necessarily bad – it can help make the purpose of the story clear and give it focus. Examples of angles used in today’s Australian election stories:

  • Keep it objective unless you are providing a commentary
    If you want to provide an impartial perspective (and we can argue about how possible that really is!) then you need to stick to the facts and avoid personal comment or the use of ‘I‘ and ‘me‘. However, many blog writers are providing a very personal perspective and commentary on an issue and in this case it is better to make it quite clear that this is what you are doing. It is still better not to litter your text with a load of ‘I think‘ and ‘my opinion is‘ statements which have little real argument to them and risk transforming comment into rant – better to try and present your arguments in a balanced way taking into consideration the counter-arguments and making your case clearly and concisely.
  • Quote People
    Quoting people will reinforce your arguments or add perspective or authority to your article. For example:

    • Google Australia’s head of corporate communications Rob Shilkin agrees.”(This election campaign) has been notable for the amount of blogs, comments and analysis from voters and candidates alike,” Mr Shilkin said.
      Quoted from, “How the web shaped the Australian election” (AAP)

  • Keep it Simple, Don’t Get ‘Flowery’
    Keep your sentences and paragraphs short. Don’t use lots of heavily descriptive language. When you’ve finished, go through the entire story and try to remove any words which aren’t completely necessary. Usually, you’ll find a lot of adjectives that can be pruned, repetition that can be knocked out, points that are not central to the story that can be eliminated, and long latinate words can be replaced with a simple germanic equivalent that conveys the same meaning more forcefully and clearly.

That should get you going and if you feel that you would like some professional coaching then you can always take an English4Today Online Writing course.