Even in long-form journalism, get rid of extraneous words and verbose phrasing. Ask yourself: Is there a more pithy way to express this idea?
August 05, 2015
Be a Local Resource
With travel and edit/art budgets cut, editors may be relying more heavily on freelancers who live near people, places, and events they need covered. If you live near someone or something of interest, let editors know.
July 11, 2013
Unless your nonfiction is an op/ed piece, leave yourself and your opinions out of it. Use quotes and detail to flesh out the story; then let your readers draw their own conclusions.
November 28, 2012
Check your facts. The best-written piece in the world falls flat on its face if it contains errors.
July 29, 2012
He Said, She Said
Especially in nonfiction, most quotes are best accompanied by “says” or “said.” Other verbs (shouted, groaned, cried, hissed, etc.) can work in fiction if used sparingly, but keep in mind that they’re “telling” the story, not “showing.”
June 07, 2012
Not many publishers can afford to employ fact-checkers any more. Your editor will love you if you check spellings, titles, dates, and other facts before you hand in that story or manuscript.
February 09, 2012
How Good Is Your How-To?
A “how to” or “step by step” article may seem simple, but writing one isn’t easy. Use the “cookbook test”: Can you follow your own instructions and arrive at the desired result the way you can follow a recipe?
November 17, 2011
An Amazing Writing Tip!
The most overused adjective today is “amazing.” Find another way to describe that view, vacation, performance, or pair of shoes.
October 11, 2011
Be a Backpack Journalist
Editorial and art budgets are leaner than ever, while demand for multimedia is exploding. Learn to be a jack of all trades--writer, photographer, videographer, blogger--and you’ll set yourself apart.
September 28, 2009
Got Multimedia Skills?
Today’s media consumer demands it all: text, images, video, and interactivity. Learn to produce a multimedia story well and your skills will be in demand.
July 02, 2009
Just the Facts, Ma'am (or Sir)
Major media may employ fact-checkers, but the littler guys usually can’t afford that luxury. Endear yourself to your editor by verifying spellings and stats before you hit “send.”
June 06, 2009
Writers hate being pigeonholed in terms of subject matter, and good ones can produce quality copy on many topics. But, particularly in a tough economy, specialized knowledge or experience may give you an edge in selling yourself to an editor or other content buyer. Are you an avid gardener? A teacher? A veteran? A parent? Yes, even certain life experiences may lend you an advantage in breaking in to certain markets.
March 31, 2009
Show, Don't Tell
Show, don’t tell--that’s what my high-school creative-writing teacher taught me, and her advice still holds true. Make your interview subjects or your characters come alive through detail. How they dress, where they live, what car they drive, how they talk--all speak volumes about their backgrounds, values, and world views. Actions speak louder than words (narrative), which can be flat and dull.
December 12, 2008
Writer's Block Is a Gift
Writer’s block is a gift. Why? Because it means you have time to fiddle and faddle with your words (or the lack thereof). Writing on deadline—as in news coverage for a Web site—is a sure cure for I-don’t-know-how-to-begin. Get yourself an assignment that requires you to file the story right away, and you’ll find that when you absolutely, positively have to write, you can somehow manage it. Don’t know how to snag such an assignment? Try signing up for a Journalism 101-type class—anything that will force you to create on the clock.
September 03, 2008
Deconstruct Good Writing
Sit down with a few copies of a magazine you enjoy. Don’t just read the articles; analyze the way they’re crafted. What do you admire about the writing, and why? What kinds of “voices” shine through? What narrative and organizational devices do the stories employ? To become a better writer, become a critical reader.
June 25, 2008
Go the Extra Mile for Your Editor
You’ve slaved over your story: an assigned profile of business tycoon Donald Trump. Don’t send your editor the story with the non-title “Donald Trump Profile.” Give it a catchy headline that’s appropriate for the media outlet, and add a deck (subtitle) while you’re at it. Your title may or may not get used, but your editor will appreciate your efforts.
April 27, 2008
The Devil Is in the Details
Paint your readers a complete picture. Refer to “the slender fawn Greyhound with huge dark eyes and a black-tipped muzzle” instead of “the brown dog.”
February 09, 2008
A Recipe for "How-to" Writing
Step-by-step “how-to” articles are difficult to write well. Think of your article as a recipe in a cookbook: If the reader follows your instructions exactly, will he or she achieve precisely the desired result? If not, find the glitches—perhaps missed steps or imprecise instructions—and fix them for a delicious outcome, every time.
January 25, 2008
Lean, Mean, and Clean
Got a 1,500-word assignment? Take the time to pare your story down to the allotted length. Turn in clean copy: fact-checked, spell-checked, and with suggested head, deck, and subheads. Your editor will thank you.
July 02, 2007
Lead by Example
Readers love anecdotes--real-life stories they can relate to. So for that “disease of the month” story, find an affected person and lead with her saga.
April 29, 2007
Increase Your Activity
Don’t let your words be passive victims. Energize them by using the active voice whenever possible.
April 15, 2007
Write What You Know
Few general-interest publications remain, while “niche” mags abound. If you have specialized expertise, that knowledge may help you break in to a market. Amass a track record of solid writing and you may just become indispensable.
February 05, 2007
Grab Them with Anecdotes
People like to read about people. For an attention-getting opener, start your nonfiction story with a real-life anecdote about someone with the problem du jour. It’s a tried-and-true method of drawing the reader in to the story.
December 05, 2006
Good service journalism clearly states why readers should care about what you’re telling them. I call it the “so what?” Explain why and how the information you’re presenting will help your reader be happier, lose weight, make money, master a sport--whatever the purpose of the story.
November 13, 2006
Mix It Up
Repetition of adjectives or adverbs in a paragraph makes for dull reading. If your subject was “happy” in the first sentence, then perhaps she could be “elated” or “joyful” if you refer to her state of mind again.
October 10, 2006
Be Wasteful with Words
Writers: Go ahead and let those words pour out. Try not to self-censor (it’s hard, I know). Put the piece away and look at again in a day or two. The awkward, extraneous stuff will leap out at you like a neon sign.
August 25, 2006
Writing Tip of the Week - June 12, 2006
What do you like to read? Those genres are probably what you’ll find easiest to write.
May 29, 2006