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November 5, 2005

News Writing Taboos

As we are discovering in news writing, there’s more to journalism than meets the eye. Whoops, I just committed a glaring, journalistic error─one that writers in any genre should avoid. “Meets the eye” is a very blatantly, flagrant cliché. Oh no, I can’t seem to help myself. I just intensified a useless adjective. But all those clichés and adjectives and intensifiers are so tempting. I love the word “very.” And the word “quite” is really quite sophisticated. What’s a budding journalist to do?

It’s simple. Read Chapter 9 and 10 of the AP Guide to News Writing. In these chapters, Rene Cappon demonstrates how ineffective overused, trite descriptions are and how effective tiny, colorful ones can be. To be effective, the news writer must use his or her ears and eyes: the ears to hear the sounds of words and the eyes to see their color.

At the start of my college-writing class, our professor gave us a list of approximately 25 words we could never use. Her “taboo list” included words such as interesting, nice, a lot, and very. We all hated that list, but it forced us to think of new ways to describe things. Similarly, Rene Cappon’s list of “Words to Swear At” challenges the news writer to think beyond clichés and banal phrases (92-94).

Posted by NancyGregg at November 5, 2005 6:52 PM



I love how you did your blog entry: that is a prime example of writing creatively. You should persue your interest; you surely have a knack for it. Isn't newswriting so hard to get into just because you WANT to use the words you normally use? Very much so.

I am not going into teaching. Currently, I am looking into lawschools and MBA programs. My degree will be in English Literature.

Posted by: Katie Aikins at November 6, 2005 10:03 PM

Very creative and entertaining way to get your point across, Nancy! It is certainly effective (I almost said "very" instead…it is difficult not to.) =0) I remember my government teacher in high school felt the same way about intensifiers such as "very." And just recently in my Thinking & Writing class with Dr. Arnzen, we talked about words that are a form of the verb "to be." Is, are, was, were, being, been etc. are examples of this verb and to be honest, they do not really mean much. There are so many other words to use which are more specific about what you mean. Yet, we use "to be" extremely often because avoiding it requires a lot of rephrasing and reworking of ideas.

Posted by: Lorin Schumacher at November 8, 2005 1:19 PM

However did you survive that class without being able to use the word "interesting"?! I can't go a day without using at least once or twice!

You're right, though. Making the list of "Words To Swear At" was a good idea, because it makes journalists think of new and creative ways to say things, instead of beating a dead horse...

...eww, I never liked that cliché much.

Posted by: Valerie Masciarelli at November 8, 2005 9:33 PM