Differences between regular English and news writing styles

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You know what's strange? There are a lot of differences between writing regular English, like novels, and news style for journalism, such as in newspapers (well, considering the media is of the English language, anyway... otherwise, there'd be a wealth of differences...). It's something that trips up a lot of people used to one way or the other.

Of course, I learned how to write research papers and stories initially. I wrote a book in regular English and spent a lot of time reading novels. As I grew older, I started reading newspapers, but I still didn't see that many differences.

As a copy editor for my school newspaper, however, I was taught methods and rules that turned me around (almost) 180 degrees. While news style still comprised of mostly the same rules for grammar and structure as regular English, it threw my copy editing class around, that's for sure.

Here are some of the things I've learned:

  • Length: In regular English, it's ok to write long sentences; that's what semicolons are for, right? For journalism, you need to be concise. Brevity is key. You want to convey the necessary details in a few words as possible to keep the reader going along. We as copy editors often had to delete entire unnecessary paragraphs from an article if it seemed redundant or unimportant to the story, and not just because we needed room to place it. Also, if a sentence ran long, journalists don't want to use semicolons. They just break up the sentence with periods, if possible. We also needed to break up paragraphs; we didn't want them any longer than three or four sentences unless it was necessary. It's easier for people to read things when they're broken up into easily identifiable elements, and entering and tabbing was one way to make a chunk of text into nice, small, friendly pieces.
  • Tabbing/spacing: On the subject of tabbing, novels and stories have paragraphs that are usually are tabbed with, well, the Tab key on the keyboard. However, for news style, we use five spaces for an indent, if not a whole blank line to separate paragraphs.
  • Structure: There is usually more flexibility when writing traditionally. You want the first sentence of the book to be a word long, and of its own paragraph? Cool. Can the book be one long paragraph? Sure! That is not the case in journalism. Articles usually start with one sentence that contains the who, what, where, when, how, and why, if possible or known. This sentence is called the lead. The third or fourth paragraph may contain a nut graph, which explains the news value of the story usually for a feature. There may be flexibility for the lead; it can be fun (soft) or serious (hard) or anything depending on the context and content. There may be no such context for a novel. Generally, reporters follow the inverted pyramid structure for writing an article; the most important information needs to go at the top because a reader's interest will dwindle as he or she reads more of the story, until it becomes just a point like that of an upside-down pyramid. Get it?
  • Commas: This may seem trivial, but the placement of comms in lists was something a lot of reporters used to writing in regular English never got used to. In regular English, you'd place a comma after the second-to-last item in a list (May, June, and July). However, in articles, we would omit that comma (May, June and July). Like I said, it was not the biggest deal, but it was still something we'd whip out the red pen for.
  • Content: This may not be the right word to use, but really, a reader should not be able to tell a writer's bias or anything other than as much of the truth as can be told from a story. There are no rules as to what a novelist can write, and for argumentative or persuasive essays, a writer should push a little more for one side or another. Hard news stories should just be bare-bone sentences with no real feeling (although a good writer should be able to move a reader with such words somehow).
  • Capitalization: There are some words that are capitalized one style and not in the other, and vice versa. For instance, for the Associated Press style of news writing, website is "Web site." Weird, huh? You just have to check through news stylebooks to see the differences between other words.
  • Other quirks: In Chicago Stylebook, the prefix "eco-" can appear in different ways in words that are all written correctly, including "eco-conscious," "ecobusiness," and "eco centered." A.K.A. is "aka" in the AP Stylebook. Most of the time, stylebooks merely confirm the correct way to write and edit something that can be seen in different ways and for which one correct way is generally not agreed upon.

Please let me know if I've forgotten any... I haven't copy-edited anything in news style for a while, so it's not like I wrote this hub in frustration after correcting an article.

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Comments 22 comments

jacobworld profile image

jacobworld 8 years ago from Ireland

There are lots of different kinds of English mate.

I am living in China and they developed Qinglish - its a Chinese way of saying stuff lol


glassvisage profile image

glassvisage 8 years ago from Northern California Author

I would think the writing is at least very similar to regular English, however!


CJStone profile image

CJStone 8 years ago from Whitstable, UK

This has got me thinking. I write for magazine but not for newspapers, and I was never trained. I can see now where some of the stylistic differences lie. Very interesting and thanks for sharing.


JTT profile image

JTT 7 years ago from Anywhere, USA

Thank you so much! As a journalist I am always frustrated with people's lack of understanding when it comes to writing. Bravo on this blog!


4ever Mo profile image

4ever Mo 7 years ago

When studying journalism I had hard time separating the two.

Thanx 4 the refresher course :-)


Problem 6 years ago

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Editing Nazi 6 years ago

What do you mean 'regular English?' Just as AP has its own style, there are several different styles for different disciplines and situations. Chicago, MLA, APA, Gregg, and Turabian, just to name a few. All these have their similarities and dissimilarities as well, so lumping 'all the other styles besides AP' together as 'regular English' is silly and misleading.


glassvisage profile image

glassvisage 6 years ago from Northern California Author

Thank you all!

Fair enough, Editing Nazi :)


itech profile image

itech 6 years ago from New Delhi, India

Really helpful,

Very Good lesson on Regular & News style English.


ashley gwilliam profile image

ashley gwilliam 6 years ago from Austin, TX

From one journalist to another - excellent topic choice!


extertain 6 years ago

nice article....really liked this..


glenn wallace profile image

glenn wallace 6 years ago

Nice Hub! I especially like the links at the end so aspiring journalists have sources to look up specifics.

As a working journalist I need to give myself constant reminders to write in the "newsey style."

I like writing creatively too, in my spare time, and I'm always worrying that the long days of writing the news in such a strict and didactic style may be having a stifling approach on my other writing.


ejazsaadsfs 5 years ago

this is excellent info, and I am definitely going to check out her site! Take care!


funky23 5 years ago from Deutschland

really nice


toknowinfo profile image

toknowinfo 5 years ago

Very well done hub. Thanks for teaching me some new things. Rated up.


raymond1489 5 years ago

Very well done indeed. I come from an English Literature background coupled with years of experience in journalism. You are right: there are vast differences. Personally, I like the simpleness, directness and forcefulness of journalism.


Geoff Frewin 5 years ago

This is a really interesting topic, and often small errors are made and not only the way something is written but we have found the mis-use of grammar or even the wrong word can be used when two or more words of similar spelling are confused. To this end we have created both a website and a book (paperback, e-book and kindle versions)to help explain written English and help prevent similar errors in others writing. Please take a look at http://www.englishwritten.com, there's also a great quiz.Thanks Geoff


glassvisage profile image

glassvisage 5 years ago from Northern California Author

Thank you so much for sharing the website, Geoff! Thank you all for your comments!


StephenSMcmillan profile image

StephenSMcmillan 5 years ago

Great information, glassvissage. Some great points here. Very helpful.


tesfalem 4 years ago

first and formost i would like to give you my prety thanks. becouse there is a differnce between verbal and written language. i didn't want to add. even i haven't any more words.you add lots of convincing idias. thank you,


Rakesh 4 years ago

Iam also very much interested to improve my writing and my fluency .i think this will be more useful for us


creativegenius profile image

creativegenius 3 years ago from United States

This is a great Hub on a much needed topic, especially for writers interested in writing news-style articles, online or offline.

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