Ten writing tips

Writing for broadcast in English is unlike any other sort of writing. The good news is that it is actually quite an easy way to write, once you understand how it’s done. These ten tips cover the basics and they primarily apply to links — the words the presenter says. You can be a little bit more relaxed when you are writing the script for a package. And remember: the best way to learn this stuff is to transcribe somebody else’s script and see how it looks on the page.

  1. Use Short Sentences
    This is the number one tip. Most problems are caused by journalists trying to force sentences to do too much work. Short sentences are easier for you to read out loud and they are easier for your audience to understand. Avoid commas. Use full stops.

2. Keep Sentences Single Idea
This follows on from the first tip. Each sentence should just carry just one idea.

3. Make sure the Subject of the Sentence is Very Clear
Compare these two sentences:
Three people have died in a bomb explosion at Cardiff railway station.
There has been a bomb explosion at Cardiff railway station.
Hopefully you can see that the subject of the first sentence (Three people) is much stronger than the second (…a bomb explosion). Partly this is because the subject of the first sentence is right at the start of the sentence.

4. Use Active Language
If English isn’t your first language, this can be a little hard to get your head around. But it simply means that your writing should feel like it is about now — not a history lesson. Compare these two sentences:
Three people have died in a bomb explosion at Cardiff railway station.
There was a bomb explosion at Cardiff railway station.
The first sentence is more active — more now. The second less feels old and historic. The first sentence is better news writing.

5. Read it Out Loud
Remember: you aren’t writing to be read, you’re writing to be heard. So as you are writing, not when you’ve finished writing, read what you’re writing out loud. You need to hear what it sounds like. You need to hear if you can read it well. The more you read your writing out loud, the better it will get.

6. Use Contractions
When we speak in English we don’t say “It is” we say “It’s” — so use contractions like this in your writing.

7. Love the Word “Says”
Use “says” rather than any other speech verb. It’s short. It’s one syllable. It’s active. It’s the word people use when they speak.

8. Who is the “who” of your story? Make them the subject of your top line.
Three hundred people have signed a petition…
Prime Minister Boris Johnson says…
A man from Roath has…

9. Don’t use dependent clauses
In other words don’t put something at the start of a sentence that the audience has to remember in order to make sense of the second part of the sentence.
With forty floors and three hundred windows, the new building has taken four years to build.
The new building has forty floors and three hundred windows. It took four years to build.

10. Keep it simple
No big words. No jargon. No showing off. Nothing clever. Don’t use three words if one will do. Don’t put anything in that needs explaining without explaining it. Remember — the audience doesn’t know the story as well as you do.