Journalism Writing Style: An Ultimate Guide

Breaking news. If those words make your heart race, you might be destined for a life in the exciting world of journalism. Journalism is a time-honored profession and one that comes with its own history, conventions, and style. If you are interested in becoming one of the ink-stained wretches who fill newspapers and the internet with breaking news and feature stories, then you will need to learn some of the key tips and tricks that differentiate journalism from other types of writing. In this ultimate guide, we’ll go over some of the most important elements of journalism writing style in order to help you get started in your career as a reporter.

Inverted pyramid format

The most distinctive element of journalism writing is the inverted pyramid style, which is used for most breaking news stories. Inverted pyramid places a summary of the story in the first paragraph, containing all of the most important information. This paragraph is called the summary lead (often spelled “lede”). After the opening paragraph, the subsequent paragraphs give supporting details in order of importance from most to least important. This format serves two purposes. First, it makes sure the reader gets the gist up front and second, it allows newspapers to cut stories to fit the allotted space by cutting from the bottom up. In the old days, when stories were transmitted by telegraph, it also meant that the main news would still make it to the main office even if the transmission got cut short. It takes practice, and sometimes even talent to summarize some significant events, which require lots of detailed explanations, into several sentences or even sometimes words. You can start practicing it even without writing articles yet. When reading several book pages, or just long articles, come up with its summarized version. You can later compare your summary with the summary already written by a journalist to this article.

Associated Press style

For most journalism, the Associated Press style guide is the format that you will be using. The AP publishes a regularly updated manual of information about the right way to capitalize, italicize, and use numbers. AP style can be a little different from the writing styles that you are used to, so be sure to check the style guide when in doubt. Also, keep in mind that many publications have their own style guides that differ from the AP. For example, the New York Times uses its own style guide, including the use of courtesy titles before a name, and most magazines have style guides that are different from the rules used for newspaper reporting. The AP is the benchmark, but not the only game in town when it comes to journalistic style. However, it is always useful to have a foundation to start with. When you understand and know how to use AP style, it will be much easier for you to spot the differences with other styles. Don’t try to learn everything at once, it will only confuse you.

Italics vs. quotation marks

Because newspapers traditionally did not typeset with italics, the tradition in journalism has been to use quotation marks around book, movie, and TV show titles. This is how newspapers and some magazines still identify these works, but many magazines use the more familiar italics for the titles of these longer works and reserve quotation marks for short works or sections of a longer work. Everything depends on the editor’s policy. For now, online magazines copy the style of offline newspapers, but you can already see the reverse process taking place.

Short paragraphs

Journalism uses much shorter paragraphs than other writing styles. When writing a news report, typically each paragraph will contain only one or two sentences. Every quotation, for example, is generally its own paragraph. This makes it easier for the audience to read and it also makes news reports look less cluttered when packed into narrow news columns in a printed newspaper. On the other hand, magazines often format their stories more like books and therefore have longer paragraphs than newspapers or digital media, albeit not as long as many books’ paragraphs. When in doubt, review your publication’s style guide and back issues to get a sense for how long its paragraphs tend to be. Choosing between shorter and longer paragraphs, always choose the shorter one. Remember, one paragraph should cover one idea, not more.

Writing level

Most people who say that they want to be writers do so because they want to write elevated prose of a literary bent. However, journalism is in many ways the opposite of literature. Journalistic writing style aims to be simple, clear, and direct. The writing level is purposely on the lower end. Generally, journalism aims to write at an eighth-grade level, meaning that it should be simple enough for the average fourteen-year-old to understand. However, don’t think that writing at this level is easy. Writing at this level only means that you should understand the issue at the highest level and be able to break it down to a fourteen-year-old.

Learning the art of journalism can take years, but if you need a leg up in writing a journalism story, or any other papers or essays, a professional academic writing service like Smart Writing Service can help. An online writing service like this can provide fast and reliable journalism as well as academic essays written by experts to order. Ordering a custom piece of writing is a legitimate and effective way to develop your writing skills and learn how a professional might approach the work that you need done. When you see how a professional would handle your assignment, you can discover new and better ways to develop the same work and take a short cut to success.

Journalism is hard work, but with an understanding of the basics of journalistic style and a helping hand from professionals when necessary, you, too, can be on the path to success.

About the author

Frank Parlato

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About the Author

Frank Parlato is an investigative journalist.

His work has been cited in hundreds of news outlets, like The New York Times, The Daily Mail, VICE News, CBS News, Fox News, New York Post, New York Daily News, Oxygen, Rolling Stone, People Magazine, The Sun, The Times of London, CBS Inside Edition, among many others in all five continents.

His work to expose and take down NXIVM is featured in books like “Captive” by Catherine Oxenberg, “Scarred” by Sarah Edmonson, “The Program” by Toni Natalie, and “NXIVM. La Secta Que Sedujo al Poder en México” by Juan Alberto Vasquez.

Parlato has been prominently featured on HBO’s docuseries “The Vow” and was the lead investigator and coordinating producer for Investigation Discovery’s “The Lost Women of NXIVM.” Parlato was also credited in the Starz docuseries "Seduced" for saving 'slave' women from being branded and escaping the sex-slave cult known as DOS.

Additionally, Parlato’s coverage of the group OneTaste, starting in 2018, helped spark an FBI investigation, which led to indictments of two of its leaders in 2023.

Parlato appeared on the Nancy Grace Show, Beyond the Headlines with Gretchen Carlson, Dr. Oz, American Greed, Dateline NBC, and NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt, where Parlato conducted the first-ever interview with Keith Raniere after his arrest. This was ironic, as many credit Parlato as one of the primary architects of his arrest and the cratering of the cult he founded.

Parlato is a consulting producer and appears in TNT's The Heiress and the Sex Cult, which premiered on May 22, 2022. Most recently, he consulted and appeared on Tubi's "Branded and Brainwashed: Inside NXIVM," which aired January, 2023.

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