Transcript Slide 1

Write it Tight,
Write it Right
Six Ways to Improve Your
Karl Grubaugh
Granite Bay (Calif.) High
Adapted in part from a session presented by Kenn Finkel, formerly of the Miami Herald, at the 1991 APSE
National Meeting in San Antonio
How long have you
been an editor?
What is your
biggest writing pet
1. Remove the
•The Problem: The worst writing out there –
the language of corporate speak, government
reports and PR releases – is slipping into
newspapers, magazines and other journalistic
•It’s our job to remove it, to give EVERY
WORD a purpose.
Rule of thumb: One
idea per sentence
This is a GUIDELINE, not a hard-andfast rule. For example: The American
flag is red. It is also white. It is also blue.
This follows the One Idea rule, but it’s
also really stupid.
But, using common sense as a guide,
sentences should generally contain one
An example of
“But it took a four-yard scoring strike
from Sipe to tight end Oscar Roan with
1:11 left in the second period to match
an 11-yard scoring spurt by Cincinnati
rookie fullback Pete Johnson midway
through the first period, which completed
a 75-yard march in six plays, aided by
three offside calls against the Browns.”
Cutting it out …
Are all these words necessary? Can the story be
told as well, or better, without some of them?
1. the Hurricanes own a 5-2 advantage in their
series with TCU.
2. and he put the blame squarely on Carter’s
3. over a period of years.
4. registered his objections
5. The Middies have a 4-3 record so far this
6. in the vicinity of
7. got on the scoreboard
8. Did not pay attention to
2. Redundancy
Redundancy is simply another
form of clutter. So, cut it out!
Future draft choices (aren’t they all in the future?)
A trade in exchange for someone (a trade IS an exchange)
A trade for a player to be named later (When else?)
He expressed a desire to be traded to another team. (not his
A three-goal hat trick.
A perfect 300 game; A perfect 10
Going back home
Totally exhausted and completely destroyed
Old adage
More redundancy
Awkward predicament, broad daylight,
chief protagonist, died suddenly,
exact counterpart, future prospect,
gainfully employed, have got, invited
guest, just recently, lonely isolation,
may possibly, necessary requisite,
old veterans, passing phase, quite
empty, root cause, smile on his face,
temporary reprieve, uncommonly
strange, violent explosion, watchful
And yet still more:
Ejected from the game, the official
weigh-in, head-to-head competition
between two persons, a little town of
1,200, set a new record, join
together, matinee performance,
flatly refused, favored to win,
quarterback sacks, the game’s
3. Misused Words and
SYNONYM MADNESS: Synonyms for the sake
of synonyms – for example, SAID (a perfectly
lovely word)
TELEGRAPHING QUOTES: He’s as surprised
as anyone that sales are so brisk. “It really
surprises me that sales are so brisk,” he said.
“The San Francisco 49ers signed quarterback
Trent Dilfer to a three-year deal Friday. The 34year-old Dilfer …” Either make Dilfer’s age part
of a separate declarative sentence, or do it this
way: Dilfer, 34, …
T*A*N Syndrome
Using “the,” followed by an adjective, followed by the last
name of a previously named person (labeled the T*A*N
syndrome by Kenn Finkel) is common … and unfortunate.
Here’s an extreme example, courtesy of Finkel:
Larry Mattel extended his win skein yesterday by toppling
State’s Ed Gilbert 6-4, 6-2 to lead the City College
netmen to a 5-4 victory over a surprisingly strong foe. The
gangling junior put his big serve to use in keeping the
Panther captain off balance. The Clarksville native was in
top form as he racked up the first four games, breaking
the six-foot, three-inch left-hander’s serve twice. Then the
all-conference Wildcat right-hander faltered briefly, and
the personable redhead from downstate rallied to cop
three tests. But the swashbuckling local ace was not to be
denied, and his opponent’s attempt to knot the first stanza
at 4-4 failed when he was passed by a cross-court volley
on the sixth deuce point.
Other misuses
Just a few of my own Pet Peeves:
•Sense verbs (think, feel, hope believe): We only
know what someone SAYS he thinks, feels, hopes
and believes
•Prior to
•Host as a verb; win as a noun; parent as a verb
•Which vs. that (restrictive vs. non-restrictive
4. Don’t overuse
adjectives and adverbs
•Stories should be written with nouns
and verbs. The function of adjectives
and adverbs should be to modify and
qualify. Use them to change the
meaning of a noun or verb.
•Adjectives are the crutch of the
insecure writer
•A good story needs very few
Adjective examples:
WRONG: A radio blared loudly.
BETTER: A radio blared.
WRONG: A man clenched his teeth
tightly … grinned widely … moped
AVOID little qualifiers like too, very, quite,
rather, sort-of, a little, pretty much
Some other
things to avoid
Here are three – ironically, coincidentally, simply
(a careful sentence will show irony, coincidence
or simplicity, and the adverb becomes
•HYPERBOLE: “Chris Webber exploded in the
third quarter for 18 points” … “The New York
Mets erupted for eight runs …”
•BUZZWORDS: ageless Arnold Palmer, colorful
John Daly, flamboyant Reggie Jackson
5. Grammar
•Be a grammarian.
•Have a supply of desk references –
dictionaries, grammar guides, etc. –
•Check the AP Stylebook
A few basics …
•Subject/verb agreement
•Antecedent errors
•Subject/verb (vs. verb/subject)
•Active vs. passive voice
•Adverbs and hyphens (“ly” words)
•And many more!
6. Structure and Flow
•Read for STORY, not just for grammar, spelling,
adjectives, adverbs, clutter, redundancy, etc.
•Sometimes, you just need to move a few words around:
“A Geneva man, apparently frustrated over a
compensation claim, surrendered to authorities at federal
offices in New York yesterday after threatening to kill
himself for more than 2 ½ hours with a flare launcher.
•Sometimes, you need to change the emphasis of a
• “Donald T. Regan, the secretary of the treasury, told Congress
yesterday that it was not probable that President Reagan
would be able to keep his pledge to balance the federal budget
in 1984.”
• “President Reagan probably won’t keep his pledge to balance
the budget in 1984, Treasury Secretary Donald T. Regan told
Congress yesterday.”
The Last Word
•Sometimes, it’s appropriate to let a
source have the last word. Often, a
good quote is a far better way to end
a story than an attempt at humor or
a “bow-wrapping” summary
statement by a reporter. The strong
quote offers a far more lasting
•Karl Grubaugh
•[email protected]