Broadcast Writing Tips
Before you set out to do a story it is essential that you come up with a focus. Click here to learn more about the importance of the focus, as described by Jason Lamb, a Murrow-Award-winning TV news writer in Anchorage, Alaska.
Broadcast Writing Quick Tips
Broadcast Writing Quick Tips
- Use the active voice, using present tense, e.g., 'is happening.' This may mean avoiding passive sentences and even banning the use of the
words "have" and "has" temporarily from your vocabulary. Use declarative sentences (subject-verb-object) where the subject comes directly before the verb. People, animals, institutions are doing things rather than having things done
to them, e.g., Paul drinks tea.
- 'One Breath Rule' - uses one thought or one breath per sentence. Keep the sentences short and simple. Anything longer can be broken up using ellipses, (....)
- Avoid interior clauses and phrases, and parenthetical phrases, e.g, 'NewsTeam, the CMCI class that provides students with live newscast experience, helps improve writing skills.'
- Avoid introductory phrases, e.g, 'On track to record its biggest year ever, D-I-A handled nearly 30 million passengers last year.' Better: 'D-I-A is on track for its busiest year ever.'
- People talk in contractions, e.g., I'm instead of 'I am,' or There's instead of 'There is." Use the longer version for emphasis. One problem is 'can't' where sometimes it can sound like you're saying 'can.' Sometimes it's better to just say, 'cannot.'
- Use 'say' or 'says' instead of 'said.' If they said it, then it's reasonable to think that they still believe it. The exception is when it's linked to a specific past event, e.g., 'The governor said at a news conference,' NOTE: In writing for the Web, use 'said' instead of 'says.'
- Read aloud. Once you've written your script, read it. Only then will you know if the words flow smoothly without getting tongue-tied. Reading aloud also helps you identify passive sentences, where the performer of the action comes after the verb, e.g., The helicopter was landed by the pilot.
- Don't give the soundbite the last word. This is true for both packages and VO/SOTs on the desk. Always have the reporter or anchor say something afterwards.
- Don't editorialize. Sentences like "we hope that" or "you need to" or something else of that nature is likely editorializing. Don't do it.
- Write your anchor intro and tag before you write your script. Save information for these stories that you do not want or need to put in your reporter script. Never treat anchor intros and tags as an afterthought.
- Don't forget that your anchor intro needs to toss to you, the reporter. Keep in mind that you want to use the active voice. Saying "Jane Doe has more" is not using the active voice. Make sure that you are doing something. Often, if you have a two sentence intro, it's simple enough to put your name in front of the second sentence.
Using Attribution in Broadcast Writing
- Attribution generally goes before what the person said so it doesn't sound like you're saying it. You can break this rule, occasionally, when you're going for impact, e.g., "'Health care for all is a moral obligation.' That's what a leader of a Colorado religious organisation is saying."
- Titles go before names. WRONG: 'Joe Pelle, Boulder County Sheriff' RIGHT: 'Boulder County Sheriff Joe Pelle.' Sometimes the title is used without the name, for example, when the person is not well known. If they are well known, then use their name, too.
- If you don't have video of the person saying something, usually paraphrase rather than use direct quotes. If you do quote someone directly, you must first indicate it's a quote, e.g., 'The president said - in his words -' etc.,
Broadcast Numbers Guide
- Spell out one through eleven
- Use figures for 12 to 999, e.g., 70, 700 (not seven-hundred)
- Use a combination about 999, e.g, 15-thousand. NOTE: on a number like 2,600, it's easier to say, 26-hundred.
- Spell out symbols, e.g., 15-thousand dollars, not $15,000
- Any numbers to the right of the decimal are said individually. Also, rather than using a decimal, spell out 'point' e.g., 15-point-eight-nine (not writing 15.89 or saying 15 point 89 (eighty-nine).
- Even better, round off numbers when the exact number is not essential to the story, e.g., 'almost 16 million dollars,' not '15-point-eight-nine-dollars.'
- For sports scores, use the numbers, e.g., 'The Rockies won 5-3.'
- For years, use the number you're used to seeing, e.g., 2006. Even better, make it more conversational as in, 'Last year, Next year, etc.