This article is a follow up to our article on learning to write news copy, where we covered the inverted pyramid model of writing, writing leads, writing simple and the general concept of news copywriting. This is part of our series on teaching kids how to start a newspaper. See our other articles on this series below:
- Teaching kids how to start a newspaper (1): understanding the fundamentals of media
- Teaching kids how to start a newspaper (2): the elements of a news story
- Teaching kids how to start a newspaper (3): learning to write news copy (part 1)
- Teaching kids how to start a newspaper (3): learning to write news copy (part 2)
- Teaching kids how to start a newspaper (4): learning to research and identify sources of information
- Teaching kids how to start a newspaper (5): learning to critique the media and spot ‘fake news’
- Teaching kids how to start a newspaper (6): tips and resources for fact checking
- Teaching kids how to start a newspaper (7): covering magazines and feature stories
In this article, we’re going to get into a big topic when teaching kids how to write news copy: the way of writing ‘tight.’
Teach kids how to write ‘tight’
First, a review of the inverted pyramid style of writing
The purpose of the inverted pyramid style of writing is to ensure that if space is limited (which it often was in the old days of paper-only newspaper publishing), the editor can cut from the bottom, upwards. Thus, the lesser important information would be cut, since it’s at the bottom of the article. And this would not compromise the important information at the top, nor reduce the value of the story.
Time is short in the world of reporting, where media companies compete to be the ‘first’ to have released a story, thus attracting more readership. And so, newspaper editors have to find ways to rush the news out to the public as fast as possible. This is why cutting from the bottom upwards saves time, and helps get a newspaper out to the public faster.
Why learn to write tight for lessons on starting a newspaper?
To make more room for ads, and to increase readership, stripping down word count is also an exercise used by journalists, which can be learned when teaching kids how to start a newspaper.
In addition to putting the most important information at the top, journalists must ensure all information is written with as few words as possible. This is where learning to write ‘tight’ comes in.
There are multiple ways to write tight, and to reduce word count in an article. Here are some journalistic practices you can teach students when learning to write a news story:
Eliminating adjectives and words that embellish a sentence, without adding core information.
“The silly, furry cat walked down the stairs.”
“The cat went downstairs”
The first sentence took up eight words, whereas the second sentence only takes up four. That’s already a 50% reduction in word count.
This topic may involve a lesson on adjectives first, if your classroom’s age-group hasn’t covered that part of writing structure yet.
Using plural instead of singular
Sometimes, when we switch to the plural, we can use less words. For example:
“An apple can be eaten by a rat”
Can be written as:
“Rats can eat apples.”
In the example above, the meaning and ‘truth’ is not taken away, but the word count is reduced.
Ask your students to identify ways they can turn the singular into the plural to reduce word count in their news articles.
Reducing unnecessary phrases and words
Below is a great resource that explains how writing can often include unnecessary words to get the message across (aside from adjectives described above):
Lead-in phrases like, “And so,” or “Above all else,” create what the author calls “wordiness.” This also happens when we use extra words like “all of a sudden,” which can be turned into merely “suddenly” and “bald-headed” which can be turned into “bald.” See more examples from the author in the link above.
Also, it’s worth noting that often we use words like “that,” “are” or other ‘fillers.’ These can be taken away and still maintain meaning and readability in a sentence. For example, the first sentence in this paragraph could be turned into:
“It’s worth noting we often use words…”
See how we took out “also” and “that”? We reduced the sentence by two whole words.
However, an editor may revise again and claim that “also” is needed in this case, so as to lead-in from the paragraph above. These are the types of decisions editors need to make: should we keep the word, or can it be cut? Would it help or confuse?
This is what writing tight is all about – finding ways to say the same thing, but shorter. But the aim is always for better readability, whether that means taking away, or keeping and adding words.
And, writing tight is not easy. In fact, it can take more time than writing long. But it is ever so important when submitting an article to an editor, or you might not be doing your job properly as a journalist. See how we could have cut “ever so” out of that previous sentence?
There is more to learn when teaching kids how to write tight
Learning to write tight is a great lesson for students when self-editing one’s work, and when learning to accept edits from a peer. It also turns the craft of writing into a disciplined art, where student writers pay attention to every word, making them all count. This way, they have to really think about what they are saying and spewing out. They also have to learn to think clearly and sequentially to be able to write tight.
We encourage you to teach your students the many ways they can learn to write tight. We won’t cover them all here, but we will give you some resources for identifying ways to reduce word-count when learning how to write for the news: