Return to COMM 313 on line assignments.
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Word clutter, jargon, using quotations
(Based on a lecture by Ross Collins, professor of communication, North Dakota State University)
As we noted, most publications receive more copy than they can use. They try to get in as much as they can by being concise. Clipping out those unnecessary words also leaves a story easier to read. Usually writers on their first draft use too many words, and can tighten up the writing in subsequent drafts. Sometimes, given the deadlines of the media business, they don't have time. Funny--yet true--comment I once heard from a reporter: "Make it shorter? I don't have time to write short!" Then the editor needs to do the tightening, to "get rid of the deadwood." Here are a few common phrases for your editor's machete. Certainly your own critical editing sense can think of more, although tightening can be overdone, just as photos can be overcropped. Do consider carefully before exercising enthusiastic truncations.
All of a sudden.
Just say "suddenly."
This morning, this evening.
Redundant when using a time expression, a.m. or p.m., conforming to AP style.
Just say "destroy." Partly destroyed is damaged.
Usually not necessary. Example: "The apartment is located downtown." Just say "The apartment is downtown."
At the intersection of.
Also not usually needed. "The rally will begin at the intersection of Main Avenue and University Drive." Just say "The rally will begin at Main Avenue and University Drive."
Due to the fact that.
Just say "because."
Nominalizations, that is, making a verb into a noun form, such as "made an investigation of..." or "made a study of...."
"Made an investigation of..." can simply be "investigated."
A total of.
Usually not necessary, nor is "in cash." or "a sum of." Example: "He lost a total of $250 in cash." Just say "He lost $250."
At the present time.
Just say "now."
Asked if he/she. Often it's not necessary to restate the question.
"Asked if he plans to run for re-election, the senator said, "I'll run for re-election as long as the voters want me." The beginning phrase is redundant.
He said/she said.
Generally you don't have to keep repeating these attributions when it's clear who's being quoted. Note that "stated" and "commented" are usually considered amateurish in good media style writing, and so avoided. Other alternatives, such as added, pointed out, emphasized, are okay. Decide whether you are going to use the attributions in the present tense ("says") or past tense ("said"), and be consistent throughout. Generally the present tense is used less for news tied to a specific event or date, and more for feature stories.
Two twins, four quadruplets. Eight octuplets (?).
Just say, well, you know: twins, quadruplets.
Police jargon for people, families, farmers, students, whatever. Try to be specific.
Overused, Can mean anything from a school to an ATM machine. Try to be specific.
A replica is exact.
Are in need of.
Just say "need."
At/on. Often can be dropped.
"The meeting will begin at 7 p.m. on Tuesday." Just say, "The meeting will begin 7 p.m. Tuesday."
So can "take place":
"The meeting will take place at 7 p.m. Tuesday." Just say "the meeting begins [or is] 7 p.m. Tuesday."
At its regular meeting.
Common in small-town weekly newspapers, I'm afraid. Example: "The Cass County Commission met at its regular meeting Friday." So what? Just say, "The Cass County Commission Friday...."
It cost the sum of.
Just say "It cost."
A record is always new.
A luncheon is always at noon.
Experts ought to always be qualified. (Except on Fox News? Cheap shot.)
You often read, "Detailed information is available to the general public upon request." You can tighten that by saying, "Details are available at www.ndsu.edu/communication." Or something similar.
Just say "speaker," or even better yet, turn it into a verb: "Nern will be the guest speaker at..." can be "Nern will speak at...."
If it's not useful, it's not a solution, so delete word.
If that were the case.
Just say, "if so."
To be used for the purpose of....
Just say "to be used for," or, if possible, try to put it into active voice with a verb such as "aimed at." Example: The tuition increase will be used for the purpose of reducing parking ticket fines." Rewrite: "The tuition increase will be aimed at reducing parking ticket fines." Even better, try to find active voice: "The tuition increase should help reduce parking ticket fines."
She attended Snowshoe State University, Gackle, graduating in 1997.
If she graduated, she presumably attended, so just write, "Graduated from Snowshoe State University, Gackle, in 1997."
In a prepared statement.
Who cares? Most of the time, no one. Delete.
Out of. Not necessary.
"He worked with Nern & Nern Law Offices out of Minneapolis." Just say "He worked with Nern & Nern Law Offices, Minneapolis."
Often you can use simpler words to replace euphemisms. In media writing, we try to be simple and direct.
Passed, went to heaven=died.
Large-surface merchandising facility=shopping center.
Financial institution=bank, credit union.
United in marriage=married.
Retail sales associates=sales staff.
When you refer to another source for information in a story, you have three choices for what we call an attribution: the direct quote, the partial quote, or the paraphrase.
An editor needs to know what he or she is dealing with, because it relates to how much editing is allowed.
A direct quote has quote marks around it. It is (or ethically should be) precisely the words the speaker used, based on a tape recorder or careful notes. Reporters are ethically allowed to clean up bad grammar, but otherwise are bound to leave quotes exactly as they were voiced. Example: "It will be a really fine day tomorrow," said meteorologist Irving Nern.
Editor's can't change the words in a direct quote. If someone says, "I plan to run for Congress if the people will have me," with quote marks around it, you can't change that to "I'll consider running for Congress if the voters want me," and leave the quote marks there. Even if the meaning is essentially the same, the words are slightly different.
If you want to change wording of a direct quote, you must either change to a partial quote, or to a paraphrase. Examples: "It should be a 'really fine day' Saturday, said meteorologist Irving Nern. "Smith said he'll run for Congress 'if the people will have me.'" The words with the quote marks around them (single quotes because I use the double marks to indicate examples) are actual words the source used; the rest are words of the reporter or editor.
If you remove the quote marks altogether, you can re-cast the sentence any way you want. Examples: "It should be nice and sunny this weekend, said meteorologist Irving Nern." "Smith said he'd consider running for re-election, but only if he gets public support." Did they use those words? No. Is that what they said? Well, that's up to your editor's judgment.
Keep in mind that American usage requires all punctuation inside quote marks, and the use of double quote marks in all cases, unless you have a quote inside a quote. Punctuation exceptions are colons and semicolons.
"He'll be arriving by charter plane Thursday, " added Jones.
Attributions often are used to break up longer quotes, particularly those of more than one sentence.
A bit long; who is speaking?
"I hope to run for governor next year. If I can get party endorsement, I am determined to campaign in every town in the state," said Republican legislator Irving Nern.
"I hope to run for governor next year," said Republican legislator Irving Nern. "If I can get party endorsement, I am determined to campaign in every town in the state."
Danger: NEVER add quote marks to partial quotes or paraphrases. You are saying to readers that the source used these exact words. As editor, you don't know that. Yes, you can remove quote marks, make paraphrases. But consider that media writing coaches believe the color and interest of a story is in its direct quotes. All stories should have at least a few. What's more, paraphrasing risks misinterpreting what a source said. So lean toward keeping the quotes, unless you want to clean up grammar, avoid obscenities, or tighten up wording. If you change a quote (beyond cleaning up simple grammar errors), remove the quotation marks.