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How to Write Like a Journalist: 8 Tips

Written by MasterClass

Last updated: Nov 8, 2020 • 3 min read

To effectively tell a story, learn to write like a journalist. The same techniques writers use for Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalism in the New York Times can be applied to any type of writing, like a novel, academic writing, or blogging. Thinking like a journalist allows a writer to create a compelling story that hooks the reader from the first sentence.



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What Is Journalistic Writing?

Journalistic writing is the writing style news organizations use to assemble a story. A news story has a hierarchy of information, beginning with the main points at the top of the piece. News articles follow a specific set of guiding principles, like the Associated Press style (also known as AP style), for grammar and vocabulary. While newspapers and television were, until recently, the primary outlets for reporting current events and human interest stories, journalists now write for a variety of online media outlets and podcasts.

8 Tips for How to Write Like a Journalist

Journalists follow a formula for crafting a story. The same approach can be applied to any style of writing, from high school writing assignments to novels. It’s a way of disseminating information in a way that makes sense to readers. Follow these eight journalistic writing tips for your next reported story:

  1. Gather the information. Gather the information you need to construct your story. In non-fiction, like in journalism, this may require visiting the location where the story takes place, interviewing witnesses and people involved in the event, and using online search engines for further research.
  2. Find your angle. Every news story has an angle—the theme and focus of the piece that makes it newsworthy. A human interest story will have a different angle than a hard-hitting political piece. News stories reveal their angle in the first paragraph. Find the angle of your story and present it in the first paragraph, page, or chapter.
  3. Write a strong lede. Every story needs a great opening. In news writing, this is called a lede. This opening paragraph delivers the story’s essential information by answering the five W’s: who, what, where, when, why. These are the building blocks of any good story, whether it’s a fictional narrative, technical writing, or a content marketing article. Lead with a strong summary of events that hooks the reader from the top.
  4. Structure your information. Good journalism presents the information of a story in order of importance, in what is known as the inverted pyramid structure. The most important information, the lede, is at the top. The next section is the body of the story that contains other supporting details. The bottom section, the point of the pyramid, contains any extra information that might be interesting to an audience. Even in creative writing, it’s important to lead with the who, what, why, where, and when of your story to let the reader know what the story is about.
  5. Use quotes. Good journalism usually includes interviews with people involved in a story. This provides different perspectives and keeps the reporter in the role of an outside observer, similar to the third-person point of view in a short story or novel. If you’re writing a non-fiction book, quotes are essential to create a well-rounded piece. In fiction, your characters will provide quotations through dialogue.
  6. Write simply. Journalists use short sentences to deliver a story. News writing often uses the active voice as opposed to the passive voice—i.e. “She drove the car” rather than “The car was driven by her.” The active voice is more direct, uses fewer words, and has a quicker tempo. To hone this skill, think like a copywriter. In copywriting, the main objective is to write simply with a clear, concise message.
  7. Verify your sources. Telling true stories requires a journalist to gather information from numerous sources. Reporters need to verify the information from their sources to ensure accuracy. In freelance writing, when you turn in your story, you should always provide links to where you found information and a phone number for each person you interviewed.
  8. Edit your work. A newsroom is a fast-paced environment with a steady stream of stories passing from writers to editors before they go to print. All writers should do a spell check and edit their work for clarity and content. Take a cue from news writing and have a professional editor refine your story before you publish.
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