For many, journalism is synonymous with writing and accuracy. After hunting down and documenting an important story for the public, a journalist’s next task is to ensure that their report is clear, concise, and free from stylistic and factual errors. Aspiring and professional journalists do well to keep these goals in mind while writing first drafts, but editing and proofreading so that pieces conform to the guidelines set forth by The Associated Press Stylebook is also a key part of keeping stories both engaging and credible. To become a better journalist, reporters should get back to writing basics: They should read other journalists’ work to understand how style can influence pieces and practice writing to make their work feel like second nature. Reporters can also take regular spelling tests and build their vocabularies so that the perfect word to describe a scene, event, or person does not elude them.
Grammar and Punctuation
To become a good journalist, you’ll have to learn to write clearly and concisely. Employing good grammar and correct punctuation can help you communicate like a professional, add authority to you work, and avoid ambiguity. You can also keep yourself from making costly mistakes that require retractions by understanding the importance of proper grammar and punctuation. Having a good grasp of grammar and punctuation is about more than just form; it also helps to uphold integrity and journalistic ethics.
Punctuation in particular can radically change the meaning of a sentence. Improperly placed quotation marks can put words in the mouths of subjects that they never said, a wayward apostrophe can fail to show literal possession, and a properly used hyphen can ensure the clarity of a phrase. For more tips on how to create a writing style that does justice to your subject, refer to The Associated Press Stylebook. Depending on your medium and your personal preferences, you may consider making some modifications to the guidelines found within it. For example, though The Associated Press Stylebook does not use the Oxford comma, some publications may use it as part of their house style.
- Journalists and Grammar
- When Journalists Don’t Know Grammar (PDF)
- Grammar Rules (PDF)
- Grammar, Spelling, and Punctuation for the BBC
- Associated Press Style Basics
Although many in society consider journalism to be the best source for credible stories, reporters can show fallibility when they have weak spelling skills. Supplying accurate, captivating stories can often depend on a journalist’s way with words, including their spelling proficiency. Spelling mistakes can cause big trouble in your text, whether they temporarily take a reader out of a piece or change the meaning the sentence, adding an inaccuracy that will require a correction after publication. While writing your piece, remain keenly aware of homophones, dialectical variations, and words that need to be capitalized. Consider regularly building upon your spelling knowledge by taking online spelling tests, keeping apprised of new, technology-related words, and enrolling in refresher courses, if necessary.
- The Importance of Spelling and Grammar in Journalism (PDF)
- Embarrassing Spelling Test for Journalists
- Five Most Important Spelling Rules
- 21 Tips for Spelling Like the Pros
- Tips to Improve Your Spelling
A wide and varied understanding of vocabulary can be advantageous for the average person, but it can be especially beneficial for journalists. Knowing many different words can help you pick out perfect descriptors and can sharpen and shorten your writing, especially when you’re working on a tight deadline or need to keep your story within a set length. Make a daily habit out of checking dictionary websites, using apps that feature words of the day, or playing word-centric games like Jumble and Scrabble. The profession of journalism also has its own jargon, and for a professional journalist, it’s important to learn these terms to be able to better communicate with colleagues and editors.
- Glossary of Terms for Journalists (PDF)
- How to Sound Smarter by Improving Your Vocabulary
- Improve Your Vocabulary in Just One Day
- Effective Ways to Build Your Vocabulary
- Seven Mobile Apps That Will Dramatically Increase Your Vocabulary
Since good journalism hinges on accuracy and clarity, proofreading is an essential component of writing a good story. Basic proofreading should include checking for grammatical, spelling, and formatting errors. Ideally, you should also look for ways to increase clarity and improve flow, even if that means rewriting a sentence, and keep an eye out for consistency issues. Checking your article for mistakes shouldn’t end with looking for standard grammatical and punctuation errors, though: A good proofreading session may also include fact-checking and verification of your claims. As part of the final pass on your work, it’s a good idea to have a professional copy editor help with catching errors and ensuring the accuracy of the piece before it’s presented to public.
- The Reader’s Lament
- Common Editing Marks (PDF)
- Grammar Girl’s Proofreading Tips
- Seven Tips for Better Proofreading
- Five Easy Tips for Proofreading Your Own Work