News Writing, Literature, and Linguistics—All In One!

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From Chapter 6 of The Associated Press Guide to News Writing:

“Again and again Mr. Micawber, soaring, abruptly pulls himself back to earth.  That’s the side of him news writers should emulate” (50). 

I really like this quote; first, because I am a literature major and therefore any sort of relations between journalism and literature always make me happy.  Putting the foreign ideas of news writing in terms of the more relatable literature always works well for me.  However, not only did this quote explicitly refer to Charles Dickens, it also reinforced something I learned in Linguistics.  This past week we discussed the idea of “dead-level abstracting.”  One is dead-level abstracting when one becomes stuck either in only using very general terms which are pretty much indefinable (for example, “justice” or “freedom”) or one gets stuck doing the opposite and can only see things in very specific terms.  The secret to good writing and speech as our textbook (Language in Thought and Action by H.I. Hayakawa) explains it, results from an interplay of higher and lower levels of abstraction and the interplay of verbal levels with nonverbal (objects) levels.  In other words, we should try to vary our language (while still making it understandable) and focus on showing with our words and by giving specific examples. 

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1 Comments

Josie Rush said:

Good connection, Greta. It's impossible to effectively communicate at entirely one end of the ladder or the other. If one is overly specific, it's very difficult to show the reader "the bigger picture." However, overly lofty language means that no one will understand what actually *happened*, they'll only get the philosophical pov of the piece (which is not the goal of journalism). Mainly, I think it's important to just keep in mind what we're trying to say, and make sure our word choice is the best means to our end.

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