Tips for choosing the right words and sentence structure (words, punctuation, grammar) to help with editing.


It is far quicker to produce something wordy and waffle and getting a story down to very few words, yet keeping it all the action, drama, colour and human interest takes a lot of practice”. McKane (2006:105)

Ahead of our next few session on editing and redrafting here are some excellent links to help with choosing the right words, grammar, sentence length and content plus punctuation.

Better journalism _ declutter _leads _ cliché

Here some extracts from the sites:

For instance, whose guilt is in question below?

“If found guilty, the Football Association could fine the Arsenal players.”

You might not need to know that this construction is called a ‘dangling modifier’. But you need to make sure that the something to be modified is right next to that opening phrase.

This is much clearer: ‘If the Arsenal players are found guilty, the Football Association could fine members of the team.’


Active versus passive

News is about people doing things. Activity is interesting, clear and direct. Which of these intros makes you sit up and take notice?

“There were riots in several towns in Northern England last night, in which police clashed with stone-throwing youths.”

“Youths throwing stones clashed with police during riots in several towns in Northern England last night.”

The second has much more impact and vitality. It helps the listener to imagine what went on.

The distinction is simple:

Active voice – A does B

Passive voice – B is done (usually by A)

Of course there are times when passive is better.

Active: A rhinoceros trampled on Prince Charming at a safari park today.

Passive: Prince Charming was trampled on by a rhinoceros at a safari park today.

The prince is the focus of the story here, not the rhino. So you want that royal name at the beginning of the sentence.

Some journalists also believe that they can only add drama or depth to a story by adding words. We get sentences like:

The man ran swiftly across the street to help the defenceless boy who was being brutally beaten.

Take out the adjectives and adverbs in italics. They are unnecessary and only slow the sentence down. The word swiftly is unnecessary because people do not usually run slowly. The boy is obviously defenceless, otherwise he would not be being beaten. And the word brutally is unnecessary, as most beatings are brutal. The sentence is now much livelier and sharper:

The man ran across the street to help the boy who was being beaten.

The most effective way to add drama to a sentence is to choose the verbs carefully. For example, try changing the verb “ran” to “strolled”, “walked”, “flew” or “thundered”. See how they alter the whole picture of what happened. We do not suggest that you change verbs simply to add drama. Every word must accurately describe what happened. But it is better to choose the correct verb than to add unnecessary adjectives and adverbs. The use of a variety of verbs is most common in sports reporting, where we read of players kicking, shooting, powering or rocketing the ball into the net.

“If listeners or readers have to pause and check your sentence, you’ve lost them”


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