Newswriting Style

Organization (the inverted pyramid)

People have a tendency to tell stories chronologically. Newswriting style is not chronological. The inverted pyramid turns storytelling on its head. Picture an upside-down triangle: the broad base represents the most newsworthy information, and the narrow tip the least newsworthy—that’s the inverted pyramid. It puts the most important or juiciest information at the top of the story; the rest of the information is given in order of descending importance. (In addition to presenting the most important information at the top, in newspaper composing rooms the inverted pyramid traditionally served the purpose of allowing stories that ran long to be cut from the bottom without losing essential information.)

Lead

The start of a news story should present the most compelling information. If it’s a report about a meeting, for instance, look for the keynote speaker’s main point, decisions taken, record-breaking attendance, or some other newsworthy information. To start by saying X society held its annual meeting on X date at X isn’t news; that lead could have been written months before the meeting. What is lead material goes something like this: <something significant that happened> at the meeting of X society <when and where>. (And speaking of the when and where, when a newsletter is coming out months after a meeting, it’s not necessary to give the date; just the month or even the season is adequate.)

Fact (not opinion) and attribution

Newswriting traditionally doesn’t express opinion unless it’s attributed to a source. Of course, we don’t have to be so scrupulous about saying Northwestern is great, but opinions that people might contest should be attributed. Facts (and anything that someone would ask “Says who?” about) should also be attributed if they’re not generally known and accepted.

Identification

A person’s full first name or both initials should be used on first reference—not just a single initial. It shouldn’t be assumed that every reader knows who the person is; he or she should be identified in a way that’s relevant to the article. In captions, it’s not necessary to use a middle initial if it’s already been used in the text.

Short paragraphs

In newswriting, paragraphs are kept short for punchiness and appearance. 

Person

Newswriting is generally in the third person. If there is compelling reason to use first or second person, don’t jar readers by abrupt switches of person. 

Headlines

Headlines should be short and preferably snappy. They should come out of information in the body of the text and not present new information. Headlines are usually not in past tense; a headline about a past event is generally in present tense; one about a future event generally includes to (to meet, to decide, etc.) Within a publication section, headlines should be consistent; those that are mere labels shouldn’t be mixed with those that have verbs. Articles (a, an, the) are usually not used in headlines.