Five tips to write like a journalist
Today, writing has become an essential form of communication. We jot down notes, craft emails, and write up presentations almost every day for work, while our personal lives have become filled with social media posts and text messages. How you communicate can make the difference between getting your point across efficiently and having it completely go over people’s heads. Mastering this skill has a noticeable impact on our lives and can help matters move smoothly to avoid miscommunications and the occasional discord.
Arguably, among the most skillful of writers today, are journalists. Not only are they trained to get the full, accurate story across in a way that engages readers, but it has to be both terse and cogent and work for a variety of purposes, be that lifestyle, political, or economic pieces. Their job is to break down these narratives and present them in an easy-to-read format that makes an impact.
So to hone your writing skills, we’ve pooled five tips on how to write like a journalist:
- Remember the 5 Ws:
Like journalists, use who, what, when, where, and why as your building blocks. These basic but essential questions will cover the most important points that have to be addressed in any piece of writing, from plans to emails to text messages, and will give your audience everything they need to know.
- Know your audience
To properly communicate with your audience, you have to know who they are. Journalists change the way they write the same news piece depending on who it’s directed to. If you’re writing for experts in the subject matter, you can use jargon and complicated structures, while if you’re writing to someone who might not be familiar with the subject matter, break it down for them without condescension.
- Plan your writing
Just like journalists, map out what you plan to write before you put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard). The plan might differ depending on what you’re writing, but most formats should follow a simple strategy: start with the conclusion. This will grab the reader’s attention and encourage them to read through to the end. Even if they stop short of the end, starting with the key information up top will ensure you’ve delivered the most important parts of your message.
- Double check your information
Verify everything you write; every name, number, and fact. Anything you put on paper – whether real or virtual – should be checked and double checked. Mind punctuation, titles, capitalization, citation, and sources, which will demonstrate your attention to detail and your command of the language you’re writing in.
Let’s say you’re preparing a piece of analysis and a source gives you a number of facts regarding the subject you’re researching, you wouldn’t take them at face value, right? Double or even triple check with other sources to make sure your numbers are correct. In fact, journalists always say, “Even if your mother says she loves you, check it out.”
- Be concise
Everyone is busy these days; it seems we are constantly buried under a never-ending stream of emails and requests no matter your seniority. If you want what you’ve written read, then try and keep it as brief as possible. Don’t take away from the substance of your document, but don’t fill it with unnecessary fluff either. Follow the tried and true journalists’ KISS method: Keep it simple, stupid.