Saturday, November 28, 2009

The skinny on breaking news writing for the web

A few days ago I linked to our Harley contract coverage, during which Cathy took some suggestions from Jacqui Banaszynski's webinar on writing breaking news from the web.

Here is a condensed look at what Jacqui talked about (and here is a link to a more thorough handout Amy got when she was at Poynter). Mike H., Jeff, Cathy and Lyzz were in the webinar, so any of you guys are invited to add/comment on what I have here. (And I suggest you check out that document, which will have more detail than I'll go into here).

From Jacqui:

In good web writing, form follows function -- so if the function in breaking news is to let people know exactly what's happening as quickly as possible, there are specific ways to do that. She breaks them down into:
  1. Priority -- be clear about what's most important; avoid dramatic writing; consider gathering key elements into a summary before going into detail
  2. Efficiency -- people online are snapshot readers, scanners, so make key news easily found and digested; use labels and links; consider arranging stories horizontally instead of vertically (that's a web-page-design challenge)
  3. Clarity -- context and significance are crucial; info needs to be literal and explained; don't assume readers know background; be specific, because vague terms subdue meaning
  4. Brevity -- lay out info in scannable bursts; use sentence structures that are easily absorbed (think subject-verb-object, and beware of clauses and a lot of modifying phrases
  5. Audience-think (or, writing with common sense) -- anticipate readers' questions and answer them at/near the top of the story; if you don't know something yet, say you don't know it and (at least imply) that you are trying to find out, instead of writing around it; invite the reader back and let them know when you'll post again (if you know).