News style, journalistic style, or news-writing style is the prose style used for news reporting in media such as newspapers, radio and television.
News style encompasses not only vocabulary and sentence structure, but also the way in which stories present the information in terms of relative importance, tone, and intended audience. The tense used for news style articles is past tense.
News writing attempts to answer all the basic questions about any particular event—who, what, when, where and why (the Five Ws) and also often how—at the opening of the article. This form of structure is sometimes called the "inverted pyramid", to refer to the decreasing importance of information in subsequent paragraphs.
News stories also contain at least one of the following important characteristics relative to the intended audience: proximity, prominence, timeliness, human interest, oddity, or consequence.
The related term journalese is sometimes used, usually pejoratively, to refer to news-style writing. Another is headlinese.
Newspapers generally adhere to an expository writing style. Over time and place, journalism ethics and standards have varied in the degree of objectivity or sensationalism they incorporate. Definitions of professionalism differ among news agencies; their reputations, according to both professional standards and reader expectations, are often tied to the appearance of objectivity. In its most ideal form, news writing strives to be intelligible to the majority of readers, engaging, and succinct. Within these limits, news stories also aim to be comprehensive. However, other factors are involved, some stylistic and some derived from the media form.
Among the larger and more respected newspapers, fairness and balance is a major factor in presenting information. Commentary is usually confined to a separate section, though each paper may have a different overall slant. Editorial policies dictate the use of adjectives, euphemisms, and idioms. Newspapers with an international audience, for example, tend to use a more formal style of writing.
The specific choices made by a news outlet's editor or editorial board are often collected in a style guide; common style guides include the AP Stylebook and the US News Style Book. The main goals of news writing can be summarized by the ABCs of journalism: accuracy, brevity, and clarity.
Terms and structure
Journalistic prose is explicit and precise and tries not to rely on jargon. As a rule, journalists will not use a long word when a short one will do. They use subject-verb-object construction and vivid, active prose (see Grammar). They offer anecdotes, examples and metaphors, and they rarely depend on generalizations or abstract ideas. News writers try to avoid using the same word more than once in a paragraph (sometimes called an "echo" or "word mirror").
The last story in the news broadcast; a "happy" story to end the show. A short, catchy word or phrase over a major headline.
Main article: Headline
The headline (also heading, head or title, or hed in journalism jargon) of a story is typically a complete sentence (e.g., "Pilot Flies Below Bridges to Save Divers"), often with auxiliary verbs and articles removed (e.g., "Remains at Colorado camp linked to missing Chicago man"). However, headlines sometimes omit the subject (e.g., "Jumps From Boat, Catches in Wheel") or verb (e.g., "Cat woman lucky").
A subhead (also sub-headline, subheading, subtitle or deck; subhed or dek in journalism jargon) can be either a subordinate title under the main headline, or the heading of a subsection of the article.[full citation needed] It is a heading that precedes the main text, or a group of paragraphs of the main text. It helps encapsulate the entire piece, or informs the reader of the topic of part of it. Long or complex articles often have more than one subhead. Subheads are thus one type of entry point that help readers make choices, such as where to begin (or continue) reading.
An article billboard is capsule summary text, often just one sentence or fragment, which is put into a sidebar or text box (reminiscent of an outdoor billboard) on the same page to grab the reader's attention as they are flipping through the pages to encourage them to stop and read that article. When it consists of a (sometimes compressed) sample of the text of the article, it is known as a call-out or callout, and when it consists of a quotation (e.g. of an article subject, informant, or interviewee), it is referred to as a pulled quotation or pull quote. Additional billboards of any of these types may appear later in the article (especially on subsequent pages) to entice further reading. Journalistic websites sometimes use animation techniques to swap one billboard for another (e.g. a slide of a call-out may be replaced by a photo with pull quote after some short time has elapsed). Such billboards are also used as pointers to the article in other sections of the publication or site, or as advertisements for the piece in other publication or sites.
Main article: Lead paragraph
The most important structural element of a story is the lead (also intro or lede in journalism jargon), including the story's first, or leading, sentence or two, which may or may not form its own paragraph. The spelling lede (, from Early Modern English) is used in American English, originally to avoid confusion with the printing press type formerly made from the metal lead or the related typographical term "leading".
Charney states that "an effective lead is a 'brief, sharp statement of the story's essential facts.'"[full citation needed][clarification needed] The lead is usually the first sentence, or in some cases the first two sentences, and is ideally 20–25 words in length. A lead must balance the ideal of maximum information conveyed with the constraint of the unreadability of a long sentence. This makes writing a lead an optimization problem, in which the goal is to articulate the most encompassing and interesting statement that a writer can make in one sentence, given the material with which he or she has to work. While a rule of thumb says the lead should answer most or all of the five Ws, few leads can fit all of these.
To "bury the lead" is to begin the article with background information or details of secondary importance to the readers, forcing them to read more deeply into an article than they should have to in order to discover the essential point(s). Burying the lead is a characteristic of an academic writing style. It is also a common mistake in press releases.
Article leads are sometimes categorized into hard leads and soft leads. A hard lead aims to provide a comprehensive thesis which tells the reader what the article will cover. A soft lead introduces the topic in a more creative, attention-seeking fashion, and is usually followed by a nutshell paragraph (or nut graf), a brief summary of facts.
- Example hard-lead paragraph
- NASA is proposing another space project. The agency's budget request, announced today, included a plan to send another mission to the moon. This time the agency hopes to establish a long-term facility as a jumping-off point for other space adventures. The budget requests approximately $10 billion for the project.
- Example soft-lead sentence
- Humans will be going to the moon again. The NASA announcement came as the agency requested $10 billion of appropriations for the project.
Main article: Nut graph
A nutshell paragraph (also simply nutshell, or nut 'graph, nut graf, nutgraf, etc., in journalism jargon) is a brief paragraph (occasionally there can be more than one) that summarizes the news value of the story, sometimes bullet-pointed and/or set off in a box. Nut-shell paragraphs are used particularly in feature stories (see "Feature style" below).
Main article: Paragraph
Paragraphs (shortened as 'graphs, graphs, grafs or pars in journalistic jargon) form the bulk of an article.
Inverted pyramid structure
Main article: Inverted pyramid (journalism)
Journalists usually describe the organization or structure of a news story as an inverted pyramid. The essential and most interesting elements of a story are put at the beginning, with supporting information following in order of diminishing importance.
This structure enables readers to stop reading at any point and still come away with the essence of a story. It allows people to explore a topic to only the depth that their curiosity takes them, and without the imposition of details or nuances that they could consider irrelevant, but still making that information available to more interested readers.
The inverted pyramid structure also enables articles to be trimmed to any arbitrary length during layout, to fit in the space available.
Writers are often admonished "Don't bury the lead!" to ensure that they present the most important facts first, rather than requiring the reader to go through several paragraphs to find them.
Some writers start their stories with the "1-2-3 lead", yet there are many kinds of lead available. This format invariably starts with a "Five Ws" opening paragraph (as described above), followed by an indirect quote that serves to support a major element of the first paragraph, and then a direct quote to support the indirect quote.
News stories are not the only type of material that appear in newspapers and magazines. Longer articles, such as magazine cover articles and the pieces that lead the inside sections of a newspaper, are known as features. Feature stories differ from straight news in several ways. Foremost is the absence of a straight-news lead, most of the time. Instead of offering the essence of a story up front, feature writers may attempt to lure readers in.
While straight news stories always stay in third person point of view, it is common for a feature article to slip into first person. The journalist often details interactions with interview subjects, making the piece more personal.
A feature's first paragraphs often relate an intriguing moment or event, as in an "anecdotal lead". From the particulars of a person or episode, its view quickly broadens to generalities about the story's subject.
The section that signals what a feature is about is called the nut graph or billboard. Billboards appear as the third or fourth paragraph from the top, and may be up to two paragraphs long. Unlike a lead, a billboard rarely gives everything away. It reflects the fact that feature writers aim to hold their readers' attention to the end, which requires engendering curiosity and offering a "payoff." Feature paragraphs tend to be longer than those of news stories, with smoother transitions between them. Feature writers use the active-verb construction and concrete explanations of straight news but often put more personality in their prose.
Feature stories often close with a "kicker" rather than simply petering out.
There are broadly similar formats in other cultures, with some characteristics particular to individual countries.
Written Japanese in general, and news writing in particular, places a strong emphasis on brevity, and features heavy use of Sino-Japanese vocabulary and omission of grammar that would be used in speech. Most frequently, two-character kanji compounds are used to concisely express concepts that would otherwise require a lengthy clause if using spoken language. Nominalization is also common, often compacting a phrase into a string of kanji. Abbreviations are also frequent, reducing a term or kanji compound to just initial characters (as in acronyms in alphabetic writing systems); these abbreviated terms might not be used in spoken language, but are understandable from looking at the characters in context. Furthermore, headlines are written in telegram style, yielding clipped phrases that are not grammatical sentences. Larger articles, especially front-page articles, also often have a one-paragraph summary at the beginning.
- ^Wilson, Kenneth G. (1993). The Columbia Guide to Standard American English. New York City: Columbia University Press / MJF Books. "JOURNALESE" entry, p. 260. ISBN 1-56731-267-5.
- ^Bill Parks. "Basic News Writing"(PDF). Retrieved 2009-07-29.
- ^Thompson, Malone, Robert, Cindy. The Broadcast Journalism Handbook: A Television News Survival Guide. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 182. ISBN 0-7425-2506-6.
- ^Boyd, Andrew. Broadcast Journalism: Techniques of Radio and Television News. Taylor & Francis. p. 422.
- ^Stewart, Alexander, Peter, Ray. Broadcast Journalism: Techniques of Radio and Television News. Routledge. p. 170.
- ^"What the Heck Is a Hed/Dek? Learning the Lingo in Periodical Publishing By Janene Mascarella". WritersWeekly.com. July 20, 2005. Retrieved July 29, 2009.
- ^Morrison, Daniel. "How to Write Headlines and Decks (Heds and Deks)". Info-Truck: A blog about delivering information—by the truckload.
- ^American Heritage Dictionary
- ^"The Mavens' Word of the Day". Randomhouse.com. November 28, 2000. Retrieved July 29, 2009.
- ^Charney 1966:166
- ^Cotter, Colleen (2010-02-11). News Talk: Investigating the Language of Journalism. Cambridge University Press. p. 167. ISBN 9781139486941.
- ^Starr, Douglas Perret; Dunsford, Deborah Williams (2014-01-14). Working the Story: A Guide to Reporting and News Writing for Journalists and Public Relations Professionals. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 122. ISBN 9780810889125.
- ^Unzipped! Newswriting by Chris Kensler
- Linda Jorgensen. Real-World Newsletters (1999)
- Mark Levin. The Reporter's Notebook : Writing Tools for Student Journalists (2000)
- Buck Ryan and Michael O'Donnell. The Editor's Toolbox: A Reference Guide for Beginners and Professionals, (2001)
- Allan M. Siegal and William G. Connolly. The New York Times Manual of Style and Usage: The Official Style Guide Used by the Writers and Editors of the World's Most Authoritative Newspaper, (2002)
- M. L. Stein, Susan Paterno, and R. Christopher Burnett, The Newswriter's Handbook Introduction to Journalism (2006)
- Bryan A. Garner. The Winning Brief: 100 Tips for Persuasive Briefing in Trial and Appellate Court (1999)
- Philip Gerard, Creative Nonfiction: Researching and Crafting Stories of Real Life (1998)
- Steve Peha and Margot Carmichael Lester, Be a Writer: Your Guide to the Writing Life (2006)
- Andrea Sutcliffe. New York Public Library Writer's Guide to Style and Usage, (1994)
- Bill Walsh, The Elephants of Style: A Trunkload of Tips on the Big Issues and Gray Areas of Contemporary American English (2004)
|Look up lead or lede in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.|
(2016)/Pew Research Center
This page is part of our section on Study Skills, the skills you need to help you to study and learn effectively.
This page identifies the main styles of writing that you are likely to encounter whilst reading, researching and studying.
You may also want to see our page: Sources of Information for ideas about where to find relevant materials.
Understanding the styles of writing used in various documents can help you put what you read into perspective.
There are many different and distinct writing styles that are adopted by authors depending on their audience and also on the medium in which they are publishing – for example, an article may be written differently online than it would be in a book or academic journal.
Experienced readers will instinctively recognise the various writing styles, these include:
- Academic writing
- Articles from academic journals
- Journalistic writing (news media)
- Fiction (imaginary)
- Non-fiction (factual)
Academic Writing Styles
Academic writing tends to be precise, cautious, lengthy and even pedantic. It is a style of writing which most students will quickly become familiar with.
Academic writers attempt to ensure that their analysis does not contain inaccurate information or omissions - essential points are usually clearly justified. This is a way of ensuring that the writer is saying exactly what they mean - even if this means creating a lengthy piece in the process. This style can be tedious to read - but it does help to ensure that the essential points of the text are interpreted correctly. Such texts are usually written in a clear and logical way, which often involves pointing out what the author is going to say and then actually explaining their point and concluding by pointing out what has been said – similar in style to a student essay.
Academic texts will contain references and quotes from others’ work and a reference list or bibliography. This shows that the author is writing on sound foundations and has taken into account, or at least read, what others have also explored and discussed. Of course, even academic authors may have been selective and ensured that their viewpoint is being validated by others, so a degree of caution - to understand the validity and biases - should be given. Some academic writers offer alternative interpretations by other academics. This is usually a good sign since it ensures that the reader is aware of the diversity of opinion and that the author is being objective.
Academic journals are produced by different institutions across a broad range of subject areas.
Academic journals are usually published regularly; quarterly or tri-annually although some may be more frequent. Because they are regularly produced they are able to respond more quickly to new research. For this reason they are thought of as providing analysis of the latest ideas and thoughts from across the academic community.
Academic journals will be written in very much the same tone as academic books containing the same analytical style. Academic journals are generally well-respected as their content has been peer reviewed. Peer review means that an article has been examined and scrutinised by an expert in the field (a peer) and that it is considered acceptable for publication. Journal articles may go through several revisions before they are accepted for publication.
Despite these checks you, as the reader, still need to be wary of the quality of the content and take steps to read further around ideas and theories to check relevance and validity. As you should use an element of common-sense when using internet sources, so you should when reading journal articles.
- “Is the journal a well-known and well-established publication?”,
- “Are the articles in the journal peer-reviewed?”,
- “Does the journal represent a national body?”,
- “Is the journal linked to a university?”
Academic journals, like other academic texts, will contain references to, and quotes from, others’ work as well as a reference list or bibliography. For a list of available journals you could check your library or search online for academic journals or a related theme. If you are a student at university then you may have access to JSTOR (http://www.jstor.org) or another online journal distributor.
Journalistic Writing Style
Printed Newspapers and Magazines
In the UK (and internationally) there are two types of newspapers - each with a specific style of writing. These are broadsheet journalism and tabloid journalism. The name broadsheet comes from the era of the Rotary Press when a broadsheet was the full size of a rotary press plate. This style of journalism is usually composed of considered points of view, but will certainly conform to an editorial style and perspective and usually a political bias. Broadsheet newspapers can however supply good quality, up-to-date stories.
Journalists who write for broadsheets will usually have a good command of language and be able to argue their point well. They will often use a deductive style of reasoning; this involves a logical progression of points which confirm the original statement. Nonetheless, one should always be aware that their main objective is to sell newspapers and hence they may be likely to sensationalise within their own remit.
Tabloid newspapers were, traditionally, two pages made up from one printing plate and are hence half the size of broadsheets. In the UK the physical boundaries between broadsheet and tabloid publications has broken down, some daily newspapers which were once printed as broadsheets are now printed in tabloid form. The style of writing and the content of tabloids does however still differ from that of the broadsheet press.
Generally, tabloids are considered to have a strong editorial bias and to be more sensational than broadsheets, traditionally they contained more photographs and less serious discussion. As with broadsheet newspapers, their remit is to sell - and because of this they are often accused of sensationalising news and playing on the prejudices of what they see as the belief system of their public. The style of a tabloid journalist is usually less considered than that of broadsheet journalists and often the point of view or news will be boldly stated without too much evidence provided to back it up. The use of language is usually less deductive than broadsheet newspapers and more blatant in stating a point of view.
Similar styles of writing, broadsheet or tabloid, exist in many other publications such as magazines. You should be able to recognise the different styles and access whether the content is relevant and useful to your research.
Newspapers do not usually quote from academic texts unless they are reviewing them and will not contain references or a bibliography. They also often quote unknown sources which are not backed up by any evidence.
Printed newspapers continue to decline in sales as many people read journalistic writing styles online.
One major advantage, if you follow journalist writing styles for your research, is that you can quickly get a more global perspective of any given news story or discussion if you follow online news sources.
Online news sources will still write for their expected audiences – usually a certain demographic and often defined by a geographic region. For this reason you should expect bias towards the expected audience and/or political viewpoints.
You can quickly, however, read the views of international journalists whose opinions and viewpoints will inevitably differ - try reading a story about the same event from four or five different online news agencies from different countries and consider the different perspectives provided in the articles.
Most of us will have read a book of fiction and will realise that the author has used imaginary people and events.
Works of fiction do not usually contain a list of references and will not contain a bibliography. That is not to say that some of the aspects related in them are not factual, as in an historical novel, but they will not usually be useful for academic study purposes and would not normally appear in a list of books referred to (unless you are pursuing an English Literature qualification). Having said that, some works of fiction make use of academic conventions to give authority to their imaginary worlds and provide a list of sources at the end of their work.
Non-fiction deals with facts, examples of which include biography, history and special interest subjects such as gardening through to academic texts.
Although these are all non-fiction it cannot be taken for granted that they contain undeniable facts. For example, there has been a long running debate on the genre of history as it is agreed that all historical accounts will have been compiled with the prejudices of the recorder going unchallenged, although historians are now more aware of this likely bias.
Most, but by no means all, non-fiction books will contain references to others’ work and a biography. They will also range through different writing styles.