How to Write Broadcast Scripts

Cameraman Filming a TV Reporter on a Driveway at a Crime Scene

Broadcast script writing differs from print writing in several important ways. Clarity is even more important in broadcast than in print, because the viewer won't have the opportunity to go back and read anything she missed the first time. Brief, simple sentences are also essential, so the listener doesn't get confused by overly complicated, run-on sentences.

Story Selection

Radio and television have greater immediacy than print. Newspapers are only printed once a day, but radio news can happen hourly, and television news is broadcast several times throughout the day -- or around the clock on many cable news stations. That makes these platforms ideal for stories that are breaking or developing; lengthy analysis after the fact is best left to newspapers. Television and radio producers also prefer stories that include compelling tape or audio elements that add color to the written scripts.

Write an Engaging Lead

Just as in any other kind of news story, a broadcast script requires a lead that draws the viewer or listener in. In radio, this can be a surprising fact or intriguing sound. In television, the writer can ask a question that is so urgent that a viewer will stick around to learn the answer or a mystery that the viewer is eager to see resolved. A writer shouldn't craft a lead that's too long, however. As with other elements of the broadcast script, brevity is key.

Write for the Ear

Broadcast writing is meant to be spoken. When developing a script for the anchor or radio host, the writer should tailor it to the natural conversational style of the individual who will deliver it. Avoid overly formal speech. Sentences that are too long or complicated won't work in a broadcast. Even if the script is accompanied by tape or sound, the writer should use words that are evocative and capture the listener's imagination. Broadcast time represents big money -- especially on prime time television -- so broadcast scripts should make the most of that resource: They should be concise and use only relevant content.

Formatting Issues

When writing for broadcast, phonetic pronouncers should be used for words and proper names that any reader might struggle with. If a television or radio segment includes prerecorded tape along with the written segment, the writer of the script should indicate at what point the tape should play, as well as the length of the tape. The writer might also include an "out cue" -- the last word in the recorded material -- so the anchor knows when to return to the live read.

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