If you want to write like a journalist, you have to get right to the point.
Unless you’re writing a news story (where the key information must be summarised at the beginning), draw the reader in with a ‘hook’ by opening with the most intriguing part or the high point of your article.
Newspapers and magazines, whether hard-copy or electronic, have no room for circumlocution. So when polishing your writing for publication, aim for concision. Keep the text flowing and don’t say in four words what can be said in two.
Watching out for tautologies is one way to keep your writing tight. Try cutting the flab from the following examples.
- Dietitian now in-store: Learn more about how to create a personalised eating plan that suits you. (Mygene, pictured)
- That’s the major crux of the issue.
- Although we have attempted to be fairly comprehensive in the information we provide, you should not view the Unit notes as a substitute for independent learning.
- We have a mutual respect for one another.
- I’m going to make some generic comments about the essays in general.
- I’m firmly convinced that…
- I order that this matter be remitted back to the judge at first instance.
- The general gist of the problem is that…
- He was much loved and had a promising future ahead of him. (ABC Classic FM news, 21 March 2012)
- Both of these artists achieved international recognition before dying tragically young, Tim at 28 and Jeff at 30, leaving a lasting musical legacy that proves that some gifts are truly hereditary. (Virgin Australia in-flight magazine, September 2013)
- There are also career counsellors who can help people find out what their natural talents are, what type of work they might be good at. (Howard C Cutler in The Art of Happiness at Work)
- [I resisted] his invitation to dispel my vision of the perfect Shangri-la, where everyone was merrily engaged in beneficial, nonviolent work. (Howard C Cutler in The Art of Happiness at Work)
- A peninsula surrounded on three sides by water, within sight of the city yet visibly separate, it [Williamstown] feels more like a town than a suburb. (Graeme Davis in Lost Relations)
- Skin can slacken and the texture of the neck changes and age spots may begin to appear. All these changes start to occur as women reach their 50’s but innovative new technology can help to address these changes and keep skin youthful looking for longer. (L’Oréal Paris newsletter)
- Meanwhile, Kate gets an unexpected surprise when she goes back home. (Glitch promo, pictured)
- As a veterinary student it’s something I’ve been looking forward to all year. An opportunity to undertake an incredibly unique project and experience, to practice field surgical and anaesthesia skills – not to mention it’s a welcome break from the regular stresses of hospital rotations. (3010 (University of Melbourne alumni magazine) June 2014, pictured)
- Janome: quality and reliability you can count on. (Janome)
- JCU University staff will act as mentors to some participants, and academics will lead some of the modules in the leadership program. ‘We are very proud to be collaborating with JCU once again,’ Ms Hancock said. (‘Faces of future leaders’, Cairns Post, 3 February 2016, pictured)
How many surplus words did you slash? Here’s how to trim the fat:
- If you create a ‘personalised’ eating plan for yourself, of course it’s a plan ‘that suits you’. One descriptor is sufficient here.
- The ‘crux’ of an issue is the decisive point. Therefore the word ‘major’ is redundant.
- To be ‘comprehensive’ is to be more or less complete, so the qualifier ‘fairly’ is out of place.
- ‘Mutual’ means ‘reciprocal’. The phrase ‘for one another’ is unnecessary.
- ‘Generic’ is the same as ‘in general’.
- You are either convinced or you are not. The qualifier ‘firmly’ is verbose.
- To ‘remit’ in a legal context means to send a case back to a lower court, so why include the word ‘back’?
- To explain something in a general sense is to communicate the ‘gist’ of the matter. The word ‘general’ is therefore superfluous.
- The ‘future’ can only be ‘ahead of him’. The last three words don’t need to be there.
- A ‘legacy’ is what is left or handed down by a predecessor, so this sentence can do without the word ‘lasting’.
- ‘Talents’ are ‘natural’ abilities. Describing something using an adjective that is already built into that concept’s meaning can dilute the strength of the concept itself.
- ‘Shangri-La’ is an imaginary paradise. It is by definition ‘perfect’.
- As a writer, you can ‘show’ (‘Williamstown is bounded by water on three sides’) or ‘tell’ (‘Williamstown is located on a peninsula’), but doing both is excessive.
- Anything ‘innovative’ is also ‘new’, so one of these words should be culled.
- A surprise is something you didn’t expect, so why describe it as unexpected? The word ‘back’ in ‘goes back home’ can also be dropped.
- Something ‘unique’ is one-of-a-kind: it is an absolute concept and therefore should not be qualified by adverbs like ‘incredibly’.
- This slogan is tautological. If something is ‘reliable’, then ‘you can count on’ it.
- JCU stands for James Cook University, an acronym with which Cairns Post readers are familiar. ‘JCU University’ therefore spells out to ‘James Cook University University’. To include the word ‘University’ after the acronym is incorrect. The same goes for ‘PIN number’ and ‘ATM machine’, tautologies which have become common in Australia.
The original version of this article was published as ‘Style File’ in The Australian Writer issue 391 (March–May 2016).