The task of the radio or television writer is to tell complicated stories using the simplest possible words, sentences and paragraphs.
Because the audience only hears your words once, broadcast writing must be linear: Each fact must logically lead into the next. The point applies to every aspect of your story.
Just as your sentences must flow logically, so must the words within each sentence. The simpler the sentence, the greater the comprehension. And an important step in constructing simple sentences is choosing simple words.
Simple, direct words can be used in intelligent stories. In fact, they usually make any prose more understandable and powerful:
Here is a sound rule: Use small, old words where you can. If a long word says iust what you want to say, do not fear to use it. But know that our tongue is rich in crisp, brisk, swift, short words. Make them the spine and the heart of what you speak and write. Short words are like fast friends. They will not let you down.
This paragraph is notable because it consists entirely of one-syllable words. Why use a big word when a little one will do? For example, why say utilize when you can say use? Why say exacerbated when you mean made worse or worsened? Why write toxic substance when you mean poison?
Similarly, try to avoid complicated or hard-to-pronounce names which are unfamiliar to the audience and don't add significantly to the story.
That's not to say you should talk down to the audience. But some writers use bigger, more formal-sounding words because they think such words make the newscast sound more authoritative. Avoid that temptation. Use simple words.
Whatever words you use, make sure you do a good job of stringing them together. Write simple sentences. The simpler the sentence, the better the listener's comprehension. One of the 25 Ingredients in Good Writing cited by Canada's Broadcast News is brevity:
Make every word count. Air time is a precious commodity, and each word you save can be used elsewhere to give the listener more news.'
As the AP's chief print writing watchdog, Rene J. Cappon, Stated in The Word, "The aim is not simply to save words, but to improve writing. The shorter versions are invariably crisper."
In radio and television, the best sentences are simple and declarative. Some examples:
- The Stafford Building is on fire.
- Seven people are dead in the Stafford Building fire.
- There's been an explosion at the World Trade Center in New York.
- The last American hostage in Lebanon is free.
Each sentence contains one thought and expresses that thought as directly as possible. This rule of thumb should apply to every sentence. Don't waste words. Make a point of searching your sentences for words that don't need to be there. Get to know the delete key on your computer.