September 25, 2005
The Tribune Review and The Associated Press Guide to News Writing
"Prefer the short word to the long.
Prefer the familiar word to the fancy.
Prefer the specific word to the abstract.
Use no more words than necessary to make your meaning clear."
The above quote is from The Associated Press Guide to Newswriting, by Rene Cappon. These guidelines have remained in my head when writing my own articles and when reading others. I decided to analyze whether the sentences above proved to be true in the article "Arson suspect not competent for trial..." which was on the front-page of the Tribune Review September 21 issue.
I analyzed the following passage of the article:
"He then changed his story and said he walked past the church on the same side, and finally admitted to walking through a church driveway past a big, thick wooden door where the fire started."
Prefer the short word to the long word. In the final line of the passage a door is being explained. The author chose the descriptive adjectives "big" and "thick." Using a thesaurus I was able to find over thirty options for "big" and over ten for "thick." Instead of choosing a larger word, the author chose to stay with simple descriptive words. Both "big" and "thick," get the message across, are easily understandable, and are short compared to other words with similar meanings.
Prefer the familiar word to the fancy. In the first line the author uses the verbs "changed," "said," and "walked." There are many alternate words the author could have chosen that would have been fancy. The author could have instead used the words "distorted," "explained," and "glided." All of these words mean the same as the former words, but the formers are much more familiar.
Prefer the specific word to the abstract. In the passage, the author is describing the path taken by the suspect. To describe this the author uses "same side" and "walking through." Both of these show specifically what the suspect did, rather than providing a more complicated and abstract story of what happened. The author also includes indicators for what these directions are referring to; the suspect was on the “same side” of the church and “walked through” the door.
Use no more words than necessary to make your meaning clear. Finally, this whole paragraph illustrated how to give a great deal of details in only a few words. In this one sentence, the reader is able to learn what the suspect originally said he did, what he actually did, and it provides enough adjectives and specific directions to make the scene visible to the reader.
In one sentence of a Tribune Review article, I was able to see the art of a newswriter: keep it short, simple, and specific.
Posted by JennaOBrocto at September 25, 2005 1:24 PM
Jenna, this is a *great* analysis of your source material, and a wonderful application of what you've learned.
Posted by: Dennis G. Jerz at September 27, 2005 9:14 AM