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Writing for your readers

Writing for your readers

From the South Texas Press Association conference in San Antonio, TX. Presented April 20, 2012.


Andrew Chavez

May 07, 2012


  1. April 20, 2012 Andrew Chavez, TCU Schieffer School of Journalism

    / Texas Center for Community Journalism Writing for your readers
  2. Why does writing matter?

  3. Good writing starts with good reporting

  4. How abstracting works the event your observation your understanding your

    notes your story story printed what’s read what’s understood what’s remembered
  5. Top priorities ✤ Hook the reader ✤ Display type ✤

    Lede ✤ Subheadlines ✤ Photos ✤ Inform the reader ✤ Accurately ✤ Clearly ✤ Satisfy the reader ✤ Quickly ✤ Without lingering questions ✤ Without distraction
  6. Hooking the reader “There are three basic rules to good

    writing. Unfortunately, nobody knows what they are.” - Somerset Maugham
  7. Hooking the reader: Good organization ✤ Good organization adds to

    readability; It’s also the best hook
  8. Hooking the reader: Ledes ✤ The 10-Second Rule is now

    the 3-Second Rule ✤ Your lede may be all they read ✤ If it’s not in your lede, it doesn’t exist
  9. Hooking the reader: Ledes ✤ Use passive voice sparingly; emphasize

    the actor ✤ Find killer verbs; great ledes often have great verbs ✤ Look for effects and cause
  10. Hooking the reader: Ledes ✤ “What would you tell your

    momma’?” Your friend? Your editor? ✤ You say: They’re firing the football coach. ✤ You write: The Tarrant County School Board voted Friday night during its regular meeting to not renew the contract of football coach Joe Blow.
  11. Hooking the reader: Ledes ✤ Could you have written your

    lede yesterday? ✤ Gubernatorial candidate James Jameson spoke to the weekly PTA meeting about his run for governor. - Yes ✤ Gubernatorial candidate James Jameson told the local PTA last night he plans to increase education funding and fight the use of standardized tests in Texas schools. - No
  12. Inform the reader: Accurately ✤ Avoid qualifiers and characterizations when

    facts exist; show don’t tell ✤ Young vs. 16 years old ✤ Many vs. 71 percent ✤ Explain how people know things and attribute clearly ✤ Kaufman said he expects the tax base to grow vs. Kaufman said he expects the tax base to grow based on the latest census data.
  13. Inform & Satisfy: Quickly & Clearly “If I’d had more

    time, I’d have written a shorter letter” - origin disputed
  14. Inform & Satisfy: Quickly & Clearly ✤ Avoid jargon, such

    as coptalk ✤ Cops don’t get out of a car – they exit the vehicle ✤ Cops don’t go places –they proceed there ✤ Criminals don’t carry guns – they display weapons ✤ Write conversationally ✤ Use only the best quotes
  15. Inform & Satisfy: Quickly & Clearly ✤ “The suspect then

    fled from the vehicle and Officer Jones apprehended him as he was heading toward the school. We’re lucky we caught him when he did,” Sheriff Jones said. ✤ Sheriff Jones said the man was running toward the school when officers arrested him. “We’re lucky we caught him when we did,” he said.
  16. Inform & Satisfy: Quickly & Clearly • Change long, complex

    words to short conversational ones • Keep sentences short and to one main idea. • Avoid filler phrases: • at this point in time • conducted an investigation into • made the statement that • at a later date • were found to be in agreement • succeed in making • make use of, utilize • give consideration to • past experience • consensus of opinion
  17. Inform & Satisfy: Quickly & Clearly ✤ Just “said”, please

  18. Avoid distractions ✤ Use the AP Stylebook ✤ Don’t leave

    unanswered questions ✤ Avoid bias and editorializing ✤ Show, don’t tell ✤ Explain when necessary, avoid jargon/ acronyms/journalese ✤ A little rusty? Sharpen your skills at newsroom101.com or with Poynter’s NewsU
  19. Good writing is no accident. It’s what happens when we

    pay attention.
  20. Contact information Andrew Chavez Director of Digital Media, TCU Schieffer

    School of Journalism ✤ @adchavez twitter ✤ @tccj twitter ✤ facebook.com/communityjournalism facebook ✤ linkedin.com/pub/andrewchavez linkedin