Writing Skills and Styles

Good writing, editing, and proofreading skills are learned over time. If your staff’s skills are deficient, hire a freelance writer or editor or a former reporter to help with some of the heavy lifting. Try to have this person on call during particularly busy times. Send staff members, including secretaries, to writing classes as a part of their on-the-job training.

Here are a few writing, editing, and proofreading tips:

  • Use active verbs and shorter sentences. A passive voice is often slow and boring. For example, “That man ought to be stopped!” just does not have the same impact as “Stop that man!”
  • Keep professional jargon, technical language, and abstract concepts to a minimum. Stick with common, everyday words that an average high school freshman could understand. Use words of one, two, and three syllables.
  • Try to vary the way you start sentences. Avoid beginning with a preposition, to keep it simple. Use white space to your advantage, along with bullets and bold headlines, if appropriate.
  • Do not forget the five Ws (Who, What, When, Where, Why) and the H (How).
  • When in doubt, consult the stylebook of the Associated Press, the New York Times, or another news organization.
  • The devil is in the details. Before going to press, do one last proofreading. Double-check all phone numbers, spelling, grammar, dates, facts, titles, and data. You may want to have two people review each document before it goes out the door.