"Silence opens the door to hearing dialogue, rare and valuable in breaking stories," says Brady Dennis of The Washington Post.
Being a good journalist can come quite naturally to some people, but there's always room for improvement in anyone's writing. No matter how good your writing is, there are ways to make it even better. Boost your journalistic writing and tell better stories by avoiding these mistakes that are most often made.
Only seeing one side of a story
It can be difficult to separate yourself from a story you're writing, especially when it affects you on a personal level. Detaching yourself from the story is essential, so you're able to clearly see and tell all sides of it with an objective voice. The more experience you get, the better you'll be able to achieve this.
Trying to be the best at everything
Each person will have their own strengths and weaknesses. You'll always want to work towards lessening your weaknesses, but there are always limitations. Being able to recognize what you're good at and what you're not so good at is a great trait to have. When you know what your strengths are, you'll be able to focus on them and use them to your advantage. While you can work on your weaknesses and make improvements, you'll never master every skill. Remembering this can take some of the pressure off, and let you do what you do best, and that's journalistic writing. Enlist some help where needed, whether it's by using a grammar guide to help minimize errors or an online proofreader to check for clarity.
Putting too much stake in your data
Always remember that any data has its limitations. Depending on any number of things, the data you may be tempted to use could be giving you misleading or incorrect information that you're now passing along to your readers. You could also be giving credibility to this data - or causing yourself to lose some credibility by using flawed information. Paying attention to the source of the information, how it was collected and other key factors can help you recognize it the data is worth recognizing in the first place. It could also be beneficial - if you're insistent on using specific data - to disclose the possible limitations to your readers.
Not saving changes as new copies
On the technical side of things, there are mistakes that can be made too. All too often, you hear of computers crashing or freezing and power outages that cause someone to lose all of the work they've put so much time and effort into. Not only that, but if you're someone who likes to sit down at the computer and write off the top of your head, you'll have to try to remember everything you've just written if something happens. Save and save often.
But it's not just about saving as you write. You may be part way or all of the way through a story, when another idea flashes into your head. You may be tempted to make major changes to what you've just written - only to immediately regret those changes. It's always best to make a copy of your story before making any major changes, that way if regret sets in, you can always go back to what you originally had.
Not keeping an open mind
It's easy to want to push our own views through our writing. But, unless that's clearly stated as the purpose of your writing, you'll want to write with an open mind. Going into a story close minded is the perfect way to shut out any possibility of learning anything new, which is never good in the field of journalism.
Not keeping things professional
You want to be taken seriously, and you want your credibility to be reflected in your writing. Remember that anything being published online lives forever, so no matter what you're writing, if you've got big goals for your journalistic career, always keep things professional, because it could come back to haunt you down the road. Even something as simple as having writing filled with spelling and grammar errors can make you lose credibility as a journalist, when it's as simple as using a spell checker and grammar guide to get rid of those silly mistakes.
Trying to do too many things at one time
Sometimes you'll find yourself on a roll, and great things are just flowing from your head to the keyboard. But it's always important to give yourself breaks, to try not to rush things or over burden yourself with too much work. It's when you do this that mistakes can happen. Pace yourself, don't take on more than you can handle, and take a step back when you need to - and even when you don't feel like you need to.
Forgetting the basics
Yes, the world is moving almost completely to the digital realm, where grammar and spelling are not necessarily 'required'. But, let's not forget where the field of journalism started - and in getting back to the roots of the trade, it all begins with great writing, which includes a firm grasp of spelling and grammar. If those aren't your strong points, don't worry, because there is always grammar guide that you can turn to, but just realize that excellent spelling and grammar are a part of the fundamentals of great journalistic writing.
Not recognizing when you need help
As good as anyone is at their job, there's always a point when they could use a little help. Recognizing that you need help and asking for it is sometimes a problem for some people, who see this as a weakness. But, in reality, the ability to recognize that you aren't able to do your job to your full potential is a great skill in self-awareness. And, being able to actually ask for that help shows that you aren't so proud that you would put your own vanity over the quality of work you're doing.
Not getting your editor involved in your work
Of course you aren't going to have them sitting with you throughout the entire journalistic process, looking over your shoulder. But, involving your editor at different points is a great benefit to your writing and keeps them in the loop as to how you're progressing. They may also be able to point out errors or things you've overlooked before you get right to the end of the writing process and realize it.
Good writing can always be made great, and you can always improve on your strongest assets, while minimizing the weakest. Take some tips from those who have already been through this process and learned their lessons, so you can tell better stories through your journalistic writing.