How Journalism Writing Differs from English Writing

From middle school all the way through high school, I was taught how to write essays. Five paragraph essays and in text citations dominated english classes. Senior year of high school, I finally took a creative writing class and learned new  concepts related to story telling.

I have loved writing my whole life. Poetry was my thing in high school. I even got some of  my poems in my school’s annual magazine.

When I got to university, I still had to write many papers in five paragraph MLA format. However, I was hit with a totally knew way of writing when I began my news writing class.

Now, it may be obvious that articles are written in a certain way. But to me at the time, I was mind-blown. My professor advised us to forget all that we learned previously about writing, which was pretty hard for me to grasp.

To put it simply, writing articles is simple. The fact that it is so simple might be what makes it so hard to grasp.

The first concept I learned in my first journalism class was get to the point quickly. We learn how to organize articles using the Inverted Paragraph scheme.


Inverted Paragraph courtesy of Pinterest.

Basically what this scheme does is make us put what is most important first. This goes back to getting to the point. In journalism, you get to the point right away in the first couple of sentences. This is to get the main details across quickly because let’s face it, people don’t want to read entire articles.

The next thing I struggled with was not only getting to the point, but making the article brief. For the newspaper I write for, our word counts are typically 300 to 500 words. This isn’t really lot of room to get your facts in there, but it works.

However, this typically is for print publications due to limited space. Online, you have a lot more room. However, unless ou are writing a long-form article, it is still smart to keep it brief. It’s a lot less scary to readers.

Instead of citations, we attribute. Basically, “according to” is a journalist’s best friend.

Perhaps the thing I struggled with the most was AP Style. I honestly didn’t even knew it existed until I began my degree. Basically, AP style is a uniform rule book that publications usually follow. Not all publications follow it, The New York Times is an example, but most do.

Learning the tiny rules for every different thing you could think of was rough. There is a specific way to write address, state names, numbers, and titles. Buying an AP Style book is never a bad idea.

Notecards are your best friend when trying to memorize these various rules. Quizlet is a great resource, but nothing solidifies the information better than writing them  out yourself.

This is a great website about AP Style basics.

In high school, we learn to plan out our writing. First drafts are essential. This doesn’t really work in journalism writing. The best thing to do is sit down, write out your facts and informations, and fix the article structure later.

Also, the fact that the Oxford Comma isn’t a thing in journalism can be very hard to get used to. For those that don’t know what the Oxford Comma is, it is the comma that usually comes last in a list.

Dogs, cats, and birds. That comma before the “and” is the Oxford Comma. I can’t tell you how much this tiny detail used to frustrate me, but now I struggle with not using it when I should.  The debate over the Oxford Comma rages on, but know after writing for a paper for two semesters, I understand why it could be annoying to journalistic writers.

Overall, it you are planning to become a writer for journalistic purposes, get ready to learn new and scary things that contradict your high school english classes. It might be scary, but it also pretty fun.


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