Here are some guidelines to follow when writing articles for us, and in fact for most journalistic purposes. It’s not a checklist, just advice that will reduce the amount of editing your article needs.
- You’re not writing an essay. No need to make your language especially fancy or use long, complicated sentences. The point is to be understood, not to impress.
- Say what you have to say in as little space as possible. “A reliable professor” simply sounds better than “a professor students can rely on”, and the reader is less likely to get bored before they finish the sentence.
- Avoid clichés and other shortcuts. Be precise but natural. Read the first four sections of this short book (full text available here).
- Pay attention to how formal your section requires you to be. Features and arts articles often involve the writer’s personal views. Sportswriters sometimes root for their home team. In the news section, though, you should never say “I went to the event,” but always “The event took place at…”
- Always give someone’s first and last name. Refer to them by their last name only after the first usage.
- Plan your article before you sit down to write it. You don’t need to go paragraph by paragraph. Just have a list of the points you need to communicate.
- Start a new paragraph for every new idea. It’s okay to have a paragraph of one or two sentences as long as it’s self-contained. Assign quotes their own paragraphs.
- In most cases, aim for the classic “inverted pyramid” journalistic structure. This means putting the most important information first, proceeding through the details, and finally ending with the “extras”, such as related background information.
- Construct a lead. The lead is the opening, the hook that draws your readers in. Ask yourself: Why is my article interesting? Get that across as soon as possible.
- Too meandering: “Campus Council, the highest governing body of UTM, held a meeting on Wednesday, February 7, 2012 to discuss the possibility of a policy that will allow students to drop up to 1.0 credits from their academic record for the second time this year.”
- More to the point: “The highest governing body of UTM reopened discussion of the drop credit policy last week.”
- Don’t worry about layout. The margins, font, spacing, and so on will all change.
- Run a spell-check. These things are far from perfect, but they can bring it a long way.
- Confirm your dates, numbers, and names. (Never assume you can spell a name by ear!)
- Feel free to suggest a headline and/or subtitle to point out the article’s focus.
- Save the file as a .docx or .doc if your word processor allows you to do so.
- Remain available for contact by email or phone over the weekend. You never know when we might need you to clarify something or check a fact!
Don’t panic. Even if you don’t nail every point on this list, we usually catch it in editing. Plus, we’re always available to go over your work with you and help you grow in your abilities. Whether this is your first article or your fifth, we’re glad to have you writing for us.
Thanks for reading, and good luck!