Wednesday, April 20, 2011

11 things journalists know about writing fast and good

Professional journalists have to know how to write fast, get the facts right, and keep a reader interested. The body of knowledge that journalists gain in "J School" is complex, and not at all obvious to outsiders.

Here are 11 simple things I learned the hard way.

1. Write it down. The journalist's notebook fits in a pocket, and is ideally designed for note taking. (4x8 inch journalist notebook on Amazon:

2. When researching something, remember to ask yourself "who, what, where, when and why." These five questions will guide you through most stories.

3. Know the difference between a primary source and a secondary source. If I tell you, "I like Starbucks." I'm your primary source, and you can write "Tony likes Starbucks." If my friend Joe tells you "Tony likes Starbucks," Joe is a secondary source. Always assume secondary sources are wrong or lying, and don't use the information unless you can verify it.

4. Write the title and introduction last. You may find your title in a quote or sentence within the story.

5. As you write, visualize your reader standing or sitting in front of you. Write to this imaginary reader the same way you would talk to a friend standing there.

6. Write fast and write with intensity. You can revise at leisure, but writing fast and with intensity will draw out your best writing.

7. Always revise. Let your writing cool off, and re-read it before you press "send."

8. Learn to write well. Roy Peter Clark's free online course 50 Writing Tools is the best course that I know of. The URL of Clark's course is:

9. Always verify facts. As the old reporter's saying goes, "If your mother says she loves you, check it out." Get at least two sources for every fact, three if you don't trust the source. Never go on what one source tells you.

10. Use a digital recorder for interviews. I tell people I am recording the interview, press "record" and place the recorder on the table between us. When I transcribe the interview later, I am always amazed at what I hear. Inflections, suggestions and facts that I missed during the interview often leap out at me.

11. If you plan to do a lot of writing as you build a platform or brand, join the Poynter Insitute at . Membership is free. They offer inexpensive, practical classes in the craft of writing and just about every related skill.

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