As an editor, I get to see a lot of great writing. I like noticing certain writers’ styles, and even taking bits here and there to enhance my own style. I’m still pretty new to this, having been at Angus Media for only four years, but that’s been enough time to learn some tools of the trade. If you keep these tips in mind, it will certainly help you stand out to editors and look more professional in your writing.
1. Clarity — Write to make your reader understand your point, not just so you sound important.
2. Concise — Don’t use five words when you can use three. Your reader will appreciate not having to wade through all the flowery verbiage. A big example one of my professors gave was using and instead of as well as. Using and gets to your point quicker. A similar example is utilize and use. Utilize sounds “important,” but I suggest using it sparingly. Remember that synonyms do not always mean the same things, so make sure you’re using the word that should really be used.
3. Punctuation — Understand that correct punctuation makes your writing easier to read. Too many or too few commas (two of the most mistakes I see as an editor) can confuse your reader. Take the time to understand correct punctuation.
4. Don’t write like you speak — Writing should be more formal than speaking. It doesn’t have to read like a master’s thesis, but it should have complete sentences. It’s really easy to think a long sentence (most often a list) counts as a complete sentence, but that’s not always true. Size does not negate structure. Granted, you can still have some of your “voice” in the writing as long as the structure is correct.
5. Don’t start a sentence with a conjunction — When we speak, we use conjunctions to start sentences to finish our previous thoughts. However, writing should be more formal than speaking, so do not start your written sentences with “and,” “but” or “or.” Yes, I know, technically, AP Style allows it now. However, if you choose to use them to start your sentence, do it sparingly. Excessive conjunction-starting sentences just look sloppy, because most the time, they aren’t actually complete sentences.
6. Punctuation goes inside quotations — When you are quoting your source, just remember that the punctuation of the last sentence still goes inside the quotation mark. For example: “Wow, the sky is really blue today,” she said. It just looks weird if you write: “today”, she said.
7. Don’t be afraid to ask more questions during an interview — Asking “off-the-wall” questions during an interview can still bring up useful information for your story. Don’t be afraid to ask lots of questions.
8. “Have I missed anything?” — This is a great wrap-up question and it often brings up a useful summary quote or a nugget of information that hasn’t come up yet in the interview.
9. Send a source check if you can — If you have time, send your article to your source before you submit your article. This gives them a chance to correct any information or make sure that you wrote the quotes accurately. It’s also a goodwill gesture because you want them to be happy with the way you portray them in the article.
10. Have fun! — Journalism gives you the chance to meet a lot of new people and learn a lot of new things. Have fun with it!
—Kasey Brown, associate editor for the Angus Journal