Published: Wednesday, May 15, 2002

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Dirty Dozen

Common writing errors

By Rich Cameron

Published: Wednesday, May 15, 2002

Most common writing errors in the paper.

1. Pronouns must agree with the nouns to which they refer.
If the noun is singular, the verb and pronoun that follows must also be singular. If the pronoun is plural, the noun must be plural.
EXAMPLE: The Board of Trustees will hold its meeting Thursday night.

EXAMPLE: The Falcons will play their arch rivals Friday.

2. Your lead should focus on results, not the obvious.
Leads are the most important part of your story. Use exciting, informative leads. Try to make your leads tell the reader "what" happened, not that a group "met" or "talked about" or "discussed" something. What the group "do" or "decide." Use strong action verbs.
3. Do not start your story with "when."
Start your lead paragraph with the most important information. Seldom is when something happened the most important information. Don't lead with a "when" statement; you're probably using the weakest information.
4. Stories should contain multiple sources.
It is difficult to tell all sides of a story with just one source. Stories should contain a minimum of two sources (preferably, at least one should be a student). Look for valid sources, but seek out a variety. For instance, the college president and the student trustee are common sources; seek out other students, teacher or staff members who know something about the subject. Don't always quote the coach, include athletes.
5. Only one attribution per paragraph maximum.
There should be only ONE source per paragraph and only ONE attribu-tion by that source per paragraph MAXIMUM. Not every paragraph needs an attribution.
6. Don't overuse a name, use more pronouns.

As a general rule, you don't need to use a person's name more than one or twice in a story if he/she is the only source. Introduce the name and then use pronouns (she, he, his, her, etc.) for a while; use the name only to remind the reader who "he" or "she" is. If a story has more than one source, break it up into modules where one person is speaking. Treat each module as noted above; you'll probably need to use the name only when you switch between/among speakers.

7. The proper order for speech tags is noun/verb.
Speech tags are independent clauses and most of the time should follow the normal noun order.
RIGHT: "I like ice cream," Jones says.

WRONG: "I like ice cream," says Jones.

Reverse them only when the name is followed by a long title and following the normal order would separate the verb from the noun by too much.
Also remember you have three tools for speech tag placement:
Type 1: He said, "I like ice cream" (speech tag first)

Type 2:"I like ice cream," he says. (speech tag last)

Type 3: "I like ice cream," he said, "especially chocolate." (speech tag in middle)
These examples could also be converted to indirect quotes. Don't overuse any one of these types.
8. Use the day or date, but not both.
Do not use the day and date together. Use just one. The rule for determining which is to think of the publication day. If the day/date falls within seven days either way, use the day, not date (last Thursday, this Thursday, next Thursday, etc.). If the day/date falls outside that range, use the date without the day.
9. Know AP style for numbers.
The general rule of thumb is to spell out zero through nine and start using figures starting with 10. Numbers less than 10 require figures in many instances, though. For example, ages and percentages are always figures. Numbers 10 through 999,999 are always figures unless they start a sentence.
10. Words must be spelled correctly.

Editors should not have to check your stories for correct spelling. Use one of the spelling checking devices available to you. Word processors and page layout programs both have spell checkers these days. You can also use a dictionary. Remember that spelling checkers will not catch when you use the wrong word (such as "their" instead of "there" or "to" instead of "too" or "it's" instead of "its").

11. it's vs. its
It's means "it is." Its means the possessive of "it." As you write the word "it's" ask yourself if you mean "it is." If not, write the word without the apostrophe.
12. Leave yourself out of the story, don't editorialize.
The reporter's job is to report about others, not himself/herself. Leave your own opinions out of news stories. Also leave out all reference to yourself. This means you need to avoid the use of first person and second person pronouns (I, me, we, us, our, you, your, etc.), except in direct quotes.
Also, never include the words "when asked" as a build up to a quote in your story. Who did the asking? You, the reporter? You have just introduced yourself into the story. If someone else did the asking, and if it is important to the story, then you can add it.
These rules are different, of course, if you are writing an opinion piece that is clearly an opinion piece.

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