What Are the Basics of Writing for the Print Media?

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Articles written for print publications must present a concise but thorough account of events. Unlike radio or television reporting, which typically contains shorter and simpler sentences, print media can include a wider variety of sentence structure and word choices. However, the piece must still grab the reader’s attention and keep him hooked. In newswriting, the focus is on getting to the point quickly and conveying the most relevant facts, while feature writing can be longer and more creative in approach.

Inverted Pyramid

Print journalism in the United States typically follows the inverted pyramid model, in which the most pertinent information is placed at the top of the article. The less important a detail is, the farther down it is placed. The most engaging or crucial information must be immediately obvious to readers, who might browse headlines and leads to determine which articles they want to read. This style is most common in straight news stories. In long-form journalism and lengthy feature articles, on the other hand, writers might focus more on creating a piece that’s engaging and holds the reader’s attention from beginning to end.

The Five Ws and H

Journalists start by covering the basics, commonly referred to as the five Ws and H. This is short for who, what, where, when, why and how. For example, a story about a bank robbery would include a description of what happened, where the bank was located, when the robbery took place, who the suspect is, how much money he stole, and the means the robber used. In some stories you won’t know the why, but if you do you should include it. For example, perhaps a school district is cutting back on student activities to save money. In this case it’s important to explain that the district made the decision in order to cut costs.

Simple Language

Because it’s written for a mass audience, print journalism uses a pared down style of writing that will appeal to the greatest number of people. For example, print journalists use adjectives and adverbs sparingly, focusing instead on simple sentences with powerful nouns and verbs. Also, they use as few words as possible to get their points across. Because space is often limited, they must focus only on the most relevant information. You might think a description of the person’s outfit or office are interesting, but unless you’re writing a personality profile this information will likely detract from the core message of the article.

Narrative Structure

Print journalism often has a storytelling component, in which an account is related in a linear fashion. The purpose is to convey information and give readers a deeper understanding of the subject matter. Content for the Internet, on the other hand, might instead focus on actionable content, such as telling readers the top five ways to clean tarnished silver. Similarly, a piece for TV or radio might not recount events from beginning to end, instead focusing on action the viewer or listener must take, such as avoiding a certain stretch of highway that’s backed up due to a traffic accident.

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