Effective Writing

10 Tips for Aspiring Journalists


Although I do not consider myself to be an expert journalist, I do have enough experience and success to offer aspiring journalists some useful tips.  The tips I provide in this piece will be useful for anyone interested in becoming a journalist of any type.

1.      Embrace the notion of writing as a process.  Too often new journalists are producing pieces that have not been carefully written.  When people read your writing, they don’t want to read pieces that have not taken full advantage of the complete writing process.  Make sure you edit your writing for grammar and mechanics errors.  People are too eager to publish things without editing their work for grammar and mechanics errors.  You might also read the following piece: “Prewriting: A Neglected Stage of the Writing Process”.  In order to be an effective writer, you need to give yourself plenty of practice writing.  You should write daily.  If you’re serious about being a journalist, you will love writing and find time to do it each day.

 2.      Enroll in a challenging Journalism program.  If you really want to become an effective journalist, you will enroll in a Journalism program at a university that will challenge you to be the best journalist you can be.  Do your research to find the right Journalism program for you.  Be sure that it’s a program that has a strong emphasis in writing.  Many Journalism programs will emphasize everything except for writing.  If you’re going to become a successful journalist, you will need to be an effective writer.

 3.      Cover substantive stories, issues, and problems.  Too many journalists are covering stories, issues, and problems that lack substance.  As an aspiring journalist, you don’t want people to not want to read and hear what you have say because they know you’re not going to discuss phenomena important to them.  Invest the necessary time in covering things that will matter to many people.  Research the issues, stories, and problems the average American wants to read and hear.

 4.      Be innovative and distinctive.  Find ways to be creative and set yourself apart from the rest of aspiring and extant journalists.

 5.      Be willing to ask tough and probing questions.  When you’re interviewing people, don’t be afraid to ask them challenging and probing questions.  Your readers and viewers will appreciate you for being willing to ask questions they want answered.  Too often existing journalists leave their readers and viewers unsatisfied because they lack the courage to ask the tough and probing questions to gain the answers average Americans desire to know.

 6.      Don’t let your politics harm you professionally.  Do not allow your politics to keep you from covering certain topics.  When you start limiting yourself to what you will cover, you begin to diminish the possibilities of what you can become as a journalist.  As an aspiring journalist, it may not be a good idea for you to immediately declare yourself as being a “liberal journalist” or “conservative journalist.”  If you want to be a liberal or conservative journalist, wait until you have reached a level of success that these labels will not harm you professionally.

7.      As much as possible, be objective in your reporting.  As much as you are able, don’t let your personal biases creep into your journalism.  If you’re given an opportunity to offer your personal analysis, then feel free to divulge your opinions.  You want your readers and viewers to perceive you as a credible journalist they can trust.

8.      Dress professionally.  Many people judge whether a person is a credible journalist by the way he or she dresses.  Wear attire that is going to convey that you’re a professional.

9.      Practice giving presentations.  To be an effective journalist, you will need to be able to communicate well orally.  One of the main reasons people cannot give successful oral presentations is they don’t properly prepare themselves.  You should, therefore, always be prepared for your oral presentations.  When you have prepared yourself well for your presentation, you will feel more confident about it.

10.  Commit yourself to the craft.  If you want to be a successful journalist, you need to really devote yourself to doing what it takes to be an effective journalist.  When you know you have weaknesses, you need to work on them.  If writing is not your strength, then you need to work on improving your writing each day.  If public speaking is your weakness, you need to work on ameliorating your ability to communicate effectively in public.

Antonio Maurice Daniels

University of Wisconsin-Madison

Prewriting: A Neglected Stage of the Writing Process


The Writing Process

If you’re to become an effective writer, you’re going to have to embrace the notion of writing as a process.  A carefully prepared piece is one that takes full advantage of each stage of the writing process.  Unfortunately, prewriting, the first stage of the writing process, is often omitted by many writers.  Many writers feel like prewriting wastes time.  If one would fully understand that prewriting is not simply about using strategies like clustering, freewriting, mapping, and etc., he or she will begin to embrace prewriting more.

The prewriting stage of the writing process does not require you to conduct all of your efforts on paper.  When a writer discusses his or her ideas with another person, this is a meaningful part of the prewriting process.  You will find that engaging in serious discourses about your topic during the prewriting stage will benefit you tremendously.  You might discover that the idea you thought was a novel one is really something that many others have done.  However, the person or persons you discuss your topic with can assist you in coming up with novel approaches to doing something others have already done.

Discussing your topic with others during the prewriting process can enable you to gain new ideas and refine your extant ideas.  People can lead you in the right direction on your topic.  You might have been headed in a direction that would lead you to say, “I have writer’s block.”  What you would experience is not “writer’s block” but the frustration that emerges from a lack of meaningful discussion about your topic before you moved into the drafting stage of the writing process.  If you experience “writer’s block” during the drafting stage, then it could mean you completely abandoned the prewriting stage or you did not devote enough time to the prewriting stage.

I have an opportunity to read a number of essays and blogs weekly.  I have discovered that many writers and bloggers could benefit from dedicating more time to the prewriting stage of the writing process before they begin drafting their pieces.  Many writers and bloggers begin with an idea that they’ve given themselves only a short amount of time to think about and then they move immediately to the drafting stage.  You can detect the weaknesses of their ideas when you see how their ideas lack development and/or when they go off topic often.

It would not hurt you to begin a conversation with someone about a topic you have in mind for an essay or blog piece before you start to compose it.  You will find that your writing will improve dramatically when you start to embrace the prewriting stage of the writing process.  Even when you think you have everything figured out about a piece you plan to write, don’t omit prewriting—engage in at least one prewriting activity.

Before you begin drafting your next piece, be sure you devote enough time to prewriting to give yourself the best opportunity to have a truly well-written piece.

Antonio Maurice Daniels

University of Wisconsin-Madison