Don'ts For The News Writer
( Originally Published 1911 )
A vast deal of the slipshod and prolix stuff which we are compelled to read or to listen to is, of course, born of idleness. When, as so often happens, a man takes an hour to say what might have been as well or better said in twenty minutes, or spreads over twenty pages what could easily have been exhausted in ten, the offense in a large majority of cases is due, not so much to vanity, or to indifference to the feelings of others, as to inability or unwillingness to take pains.— From an address, " Culture and Character," delivered before the University of Aberdeen by the RIGHT HONORABLE H. H. ASQUITH.
The following list of " Don'ts " has been compiled from a considerable experience in reading newspaper copy and in directing the work of students in journalism classes. Practical application is made of some of the principles discussed in preceding chapters :
I. Don't think it necessary to call a child a " tot."
2. Don't hesitate to repeat a name for the sake of clearness. Too many personal pronouns lead to confusion.
3. Don't say a wedding " occurred." Things oc-cur unexpectedly ; they take place by design.
4. Don't use "loan" as a verb. The verb is " lend."
5. Don't say " Smith graduated," but " Smith was graduated." A school graduates its pupils ; they are graduated.
6. Don't say "a number of " when you can avoid it. Nothing could be more vague. Try to give the exact number or at least an approximation. " Several is usually better than " a number of."
7. Don't advertise a particular revolver or other manufactured article by naming it in your story, except for special cause, as when this information may furnish a clew to a person's identity. Also it is seldom desirable to give the caliber of a fire-arm.
8. Don't use " amateur " when you mean " novice." An amateur is not necessarily unskilled; he is simply not a professional. An unskilled beginner is a novice.
9. Don't make the mistake that appeared in this published headline : " Audience of 5,000 See Aëroplane Flight." An audience hears ; spectators see.
Io. Don't spell " forward," "backward," "toward," "homeward" and similar words with a final's."
11. Don't use stories that are not fit for any member of any family to read. If a mob makes such a demonstration against a man accused of criminal assault that the story has to be covered for that feature, a mere hint will be sufficient to cover the revolting part.— From the St. Louis Star Style-Book.
12. Don't use " burglarize." The dictionary contains no such word.
13. Don't say " he had his arm cut off." That means literally that he got someone to perform the operation of cutting off his arm. Say, in case of accident, " his arm was cut off."
14. Don't say " Smith sustained an injury." To sustain is to bear up. Say he " suffered an injury."
15. Don't use "over" in the sense of "more than." Say "more than 30o persons heard the lecture."
16. Don't use " party " for "person." " Party," outside of legal documents, means a group of per-sons.
17. Don't leave out essential words, trusting that the copy reader will be able to guess what you mean. The omission of the little word " not " may cause serious trouble. Whenever possible go over your story carefully before turning it in.
18. Don't use a word in different senses in the same paragraph.
19. Don't use " state " for "say." A statement is formal. Most persons merely say they are going fishing.
20. Don't divide a word at the end of a page.
21. Don't fail to read your story in print and note the changes that have been made. Don't make the same mistake twice.
22. Don't use "purchase " for "buy," " remain-der" for "rest," "portion" for "part" or any long word when a short one can be found.— From the Springfield (Mass.) Republican Rules.
23. Don't confuse "beside" and "besides." "Beside" is never anything except a preposition ; " besides " can also be used as an adverb, in the sense of moreover.
24. Don't use " female " for " woman."
25. Don't confuse "plurality " and "majority." A winner in an election has a plurality over his nearest opponent; he has a majority if his vote exceeds the combined vote of his opponents.
26. Don't use two or more words where one will do as well, as "put in an appearance" for "appear."
27. Don't overwork the word "secure." It is often loosely used where "get," " obtain," "pro-cure," "collect" or some other word would more exactly express the thought.
28. Don't say "tried an experiment." Experiments are made.
29. Don't say " the above statement." " Above " is an adverb; " foregoing" is the right word here. You wouldn't write "the below statement."
30. Don't say " at the corner of Ninth street and Broadway." " At Ninth street and Broadway " is sufficient unless you desire to specify one of the four corners.
31. Don't use "suicide" as a verb. Say "he killed himself " and tell how.
32. Don't use a foreign word or phrase when English will answer the purpose — and it nearly al-ways will. "A dollar a day" is better than "a dollar per diem." Don't mix languages, as in "a dollar per day."
33. Don't say " fifty people were present." Use "persons." " People," according to Webster's Dictionary, means primarily "the body of persons who compose a community, tribe, nation or race; an aggregate of individuals forming a whole; a community; a nation "—as "the people of the United States." "Persons " refers to individuals.
34. Don't say "united in marriage" or " joined in the holy bonds of matrimony." Say they were "married."
35. Don't use "depot" when you mean "station." A depot is a storehouse for freight or supplies ; railway passengers arrive at a station.
36. Don't call a fire a "holocaust " or a "conflagration " unless circumstances warrant. Consult the dictionary.
37. Don't call the wife of Dr. Jones " Mrs. Dr. Jones." She is simply Mrs. Jones. A woman does not gain a title by virtue of her husband's rank or profession.
38. Don't make a practice of using a man's occupation as a title, as in " Barber Smith." He is " Smith, a barber." Certain exceptions are permitted by most newspapers, as in " Policeman Riley."
39. Don't fall into the habit of describing every bride as "blushing," or every five-dollar bill as " crisp " or every gold piece as " bright, new."
40. Don't say " among those present were . . and others." Leave out "and others."
41. Don't tell the reader "this is a pathetic story." If it is, he will find it out for himself.
42. Don't overwork "well-known" and "prominent." In revolt against a long line of " well-known grocers" and "prominent saloon keepers," some newspapers have prohibited the use of these words altogether in referring to persons. It is always better to identify your characters specifically. Tell how a man is prominent.
43. Don't say " Jones was present at the meeting and spoke." Of course he was present. Simply say he spoke.
44. Don't call a dog a "canine." "Canine" is an adjective. You wouldn't call a cow a " bovine."
45. Don't call a body found in a stream a "floater."
46. Don't use "lady" for " woman" under the impression that you are paying a compliment. "Woman" is a good, stanch word at which no real woman can take offense.
47. Don't write anything in violation of confidence.
48. Don't say "an old man 8o years of age."
It's sufficient to say that he is "8o years old."
49. Don't say "5 o'clock P. M. yesterday afternoon." Say either "5 P.m. yesterday" or "5 o'clock yesterday afternoon," according to the style of your paper.
50. Don't write "at an early hour this morning " when "early this morning" will do as well.
51. Don't say "completely destroyed." "Destroyed" is sufficient.
52. Don't say " he was presented with a gold cane." " A gold cane was presented to him" is the correct form.
53. Don't say "the money was divided between Smith, Jones and Brown." It was divided among them. Use " between " in reference to two only.
54. Don't overwork "that." Some newspapers favor its omission in indirect discourse when the meaning is plain without it, as in the sentence : "He said (that) John was his friend." Never omit, however, at the sacrifice of clearness.
55. Don't call every girl pretty. If a girl is pretty, you are usually justified in telling something more about her.
56. Don't say "less than fifty persons were there." Use " fewer." " Less " refers to quantity, " fewer " to numbers.
57. Don't make a collective noun plural unless you mean to convey the idea of plurality. The word "audience" is singular when you mean the audience as a unit. It is plural when you have in mind the individuals that compose the audience, as " the audience waved their hats."
58. Don't call a policeman a "minion of the law."
59. Don't use enthuse." There is no such word.
6o. Don't waste your energy on trivialities.
6i. Don't use " illy " for " ill," which may be either adjective or adverb. " Illy " does not exist in good usage.
62. Don't overwork " very." Through abuse the word has lost much, if not all, of its force. " He's a very good man," as spoken, usually gives the idea that he is only passably good. He's a good man " is stronger. Be sparing in the use of superlatives.
63. Don't use dialect to the disparagement of any nationality. Don't use it at all unless you are sure of your ground.
64. Don't color your story with modifying words that imply approval or disapproval.
65. Don't write 300 words when you are told to keep your story within 100.
66. Don't say " at the present time." Say " at present " or " now.
67. Don't say " Miss Smith presided at the piano." She merely played the piano.
68. Don't say that " this town was thrown into a state of great excitement," " business was entirely suspended," " a great sensation was created," or any other of the conventional things. They are usually untrue and never interesting.— From the Chicago Record-Herald's Instructions to Correspondents.
69. Don't speak of " tasty " decorations. They are tasteful.
70. Don't fall into a groove in sentence building. Seek variety. A series of three or four sentences each beginning with " the" is monotonous.
71. Don't begin a story with "there is " when you can find a better way.
72. Don't try to show superior knowledge by writing above the heads of your readers. News writing should express, not conceal, thought. Leave stilted phrases for the campaign orator.
73. Don't use technical terms that are not generally understood.
74. Don't say " he plead guilty." The past tense of "plead " is "pleaded."
75. Don't use " further" referring to distance; the right word here is " farther," as " a mile farther east." " Further " should be used in other senses, as " further, he said, etc.
76. Don't say " partially " for "partly." " Partially " means with prejudice. A building is partly of brick.
77. Don't use an abbreviation that can be misunderstood.
78. Don't say "a man by (or of) the name of Smith." Say " a man named Smith."
79. Don't confuse the words " prohibition " and "temperance."
80. Don't say " the then governor." " Then " is an adverb.
81. Don't begin a sentence with figures. Spell out, or re-cast the sentence.
82. Don't say " his whereabouts are unknown." "Whereabouts " is singular ; so also "politics."
83. Don't say " in our midst."
84. Don't use "inaugurate " for "begin." A movement is begun; a president is inaugurated.
85. Don't abbreviate names, as " Geo." for " George," " Jno." for " John," etc.
86. Don't contract "all right " to "alright." There is a good word "already " (not of the same meaning, however, as " all ready ") but "alright " has no justification.
87. Don't say "one of the most unique." "Unique" expresses an absolute condition; it has no degrees.
88. Don't use an apostrophe before the "s " in "its" (possessive of "it"), "hers," "ours," "yours," "theirs." "It's" means " it is."
89. Don't use "don't" when you mean "doesn't." Be careful to place the apostrophe between the "n" and the "t."
90. Don't call every little flurry a panic.
91. Don't write "capitol" when you mean the seat of government — the city. The building is the capitol; Washington is the capital of the United States.
92. Don't say "he walked a distance of a mile." Omit "a distance of."
93. Don't begin your story with a general statement such as "a terrible accident occurred last night." Tell what really happened.
94. Don't forget to use quotation marks at the end of quoted matter.
95. Don't write it variously "street," "Street" and " st." Find out the style of your paper and stick to it if you would gain the good will of the copy reader.
96. Don't try to save money for the office by crowding your copy on a sheet without margins. Leave plenty of white space at the top and the bottom so the sheets can be pasted together.
97. Don't say " he secured a position as janitor." Most persons simply get jobs.
98. Don't make the mistake of the reporter who wrote of a " three-cornered duel." A duel (from the Latin duo) is a fight between two persons.
99. Don't speak of a climate as " healthy." Per-sons are healthy, places healthful.
100. Don't use " gentleman " for " man." " Gents" is atrocious.