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Posts Tagged ‘writing tips’

Is It Ever OK to Use the Exclamation Point?

With the passing of Elmore Leonard this week, his “Ten Rules of Writing” circled the internet. Maybe you came across it, too,  on Buzzfeed or some other site using the meme to memorialize him.

As journalists we don’t deal in fiction, but writing is part of the craft and we shouldalways be fine-tuning. I think most of us would be wise to consider his as we write more content online that isn’t attached to hard news. 

Take rule No. 5, about keeping your exclamation points in check. Personally, I’ve always avoided these like the plague, but on social media and even professional communication, I see them popping up more often. It’s always awkward when a senior editor at a respectable publication closes with one or, gasp!, two. If you’re excited about something, use your words. 

Then again, there are some of his rules that beg to broken in journalism. Like rule No.10, about leaving out the parts that readers want to skip. That’s sort of our job, to fill in the blanks. If you find yourself with too much prologue (rule No. 2) or a good ‘character’ that can’t fit into the main story (rule No. 8), that’s a chance to expand the story with more media — a video, an interactive map, whatever you can think of. Your editor may love you for it. 

One rule interests me as a journalist. Does it ever make sense to quote people in regional dialect or patois? And is it ethical? 

What are some of your favorite rules for writing? Can you defend the exclamation point? 

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Teaser Tweets: Treat Them Like the Lede

As if researching, writing, and publishing a story isn’t enough work, we have to promote them, too. It’s easy enough with social media, especially if you have a social media guru in your newsroom. But it’s also easy to get caught click baiting on Twitter. Noam Cohen of The New York Times wrote about the Twitter account @HuffPoSpoilers this week, which tweets summaries of Huffington Post stories, which are usually tweeted with vigor — and lots of buzzwords. Often, the story isn’t as interesting as the tweet.

Don’t fall into your publications tweeting traps. Let them tweet what they will, but take matters into your own hand, too. 

Whatever your platform, I think what comes before the link should be treated with as much care as your lede and 140 characters should suffice. 

  •  Remember the 5 W’s and the H. It’s hard not to bait your followers, but don’t make me wonder where, say, that earthquake hit. If it’s so far away from your target reader that they may not click on the link, you’ll have to live with that.
  • Unless you work for TMZ, lose the crazy adjectives. Did the congressperson really ‘explode’? Is Marissa Mayer really leading a ‘revolution’? Check yourself. 
  • About retweeting. I often fall into the trap of tweeting story links with a vague, one word response. But I’m making a pledge to all my social media friends to start being more useful. If you tweet a story that’s not yours, tell me why I need to read it. ‘Right on,’ or ‘This is naive,’ are click-bait cliches. The short links give you so many characters to describe the story to me — use them wisely! Give me a reason to bookmark the link and read it later. Be your brand, and venture to have an opinion of your own now and again. 
So, be honest: how much time does it take you to craft the perfect teaser tweet?

How to Make Your Writing Clips Stand Out

Nothing says more about your ability as a journalist than the content of your clips. The  published articles you submit to prospective employers can make or break your chances, and simply deciding which material to include can be a daunting challenge in itself. Fortunately, there are certain techniques that will help your writing portfolio stand out from the crowd.

Christy Karras, a veteran freelancer who has written for Time, Forbes Asia, and The New York Times told Mediabistro that she tends to choose stories she believes show off her writing and editing skills.

“That could be a deeply analytic magazine feature on the finances of a major city-state that shows my ability to digest complex information and write about it in an engaging way, it could be a news story on a crackdown in the Gulf that shows an editor how well sourced I am in an environment that might not be very friendly to journalists, or it could be a feature profile that I think displays some narrative chops,” she said. “It just depends on the message I’d like to get to the individual editor.”

For more, read 6 Tips for Submitting Freelance Writing Clips [Mediabistro AvantGuild subscription required]

– Nicholas Braun

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‘When a user lands on a page, you have three to five seconds to make your impression’

Even the best print writer may have trouble in the digital world where content competes with tweets and memes. In Mediabistro’s latest AvantGuild article, journo Ben Goldstein writes that the biggest thing he’s learned about the digital space is that brevity does count.

“When a user lands on a page, you have three to five seconds to make your impression and convince them to stay,” explained Rob Weatherhead, head of digital operations of MediaCom. “So make your content easily view-able in length, and sign-post it with sub-headings and bullets, so that readers can understand the key points you are making. Long, wordy paragraphs and a lack of sections can turn people off. Readers need to pick out the key topics and be enticed to read more.”

To read more, check out 4 Lessons for Writing in the Digital Age.

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Avoid Revision Stress with These Tips

After spending hours and hours perfecting your latest story, it can be devastating to see what you thought was surely a masterpiece come back drenched in red ink. Instead of resenting a rewrite, there are a number of ways to deal with the process while keeping your reputation (and sanity) intact.

When your article comes back with vague instructions, get clarification so your updated draft doesn’t warrant even more rewrites.

For Meryl Davids Landau, an author and writer featured in PreventionMore and others, that means following up to any revision requests on the phone. She asks what the editor wants the reader to come away with and if the publication has covered the topic before but wants a fresh angle. ”I try never to revise anything until I have a clear sense of where the editor thinks my version went off the rails; otherwise the next version is just as likely crash,” she explained.

Get more strategies in 6 Ways to Make the Revision Process Stress Free.

Andrea Hackett

ag_logo_medium.gifThis article is one of several features exclusively available to AvantGuild subscribers. If you’re not a member yet, you can register for as little as $55 a year and get access to these articles, discounts on seminars and workshops, and more.