Wick Communications

Style tips

The following is a very incomplete list of common newswriting mistakes. Most are culled from the AP Stylebook, which should be your bible on the subject. Another terrific resource is Strunk and White’s Elements of Style. Some are subjective; you may have a consistent local style that conflicts with these suggestions. — Clay Lambert

  • “A total of”: Totally unnecessary. Just say how many
  • Acronyms: Are a pox on the house of journalism. If they aren’t well known –- FBI, NRA, etc. — try to write around them. And just forget the long ones; if it has more than four letters, just forget it.
  • Ax: not “axe” per AP style
  • Cagers, Hoopsters: Forget it. No more silly terms for basketball players.
  • Catholic: The world’s religions are capitalized.
  • Dialogue: Not dialog
  • Dumpster: Is a brand name. Hence uppercase. Trash bin or garbage can are usually a better terms.
  • eleventh hour: Not 11th hour. Perfect example of something you can look up in the stylebook.
  • “Everything from,” as in, “They sell everything from Pop Tarts to sledge hammers.” Well, what does that mean? Do they really sell everything? It’s just sloppy writing. I should know. I make this particular mistake all the time. I pledge to stop if you guys will as well.
  • Feels/thinks: Nine times out of 10, when you write “feel” you mean “think.” They aren’t interchangeable to my mind so I change them a lot.
  • Forego: means to go before, not to waive.
  • Funds: Usually, if not always, “money” is a better word. Less bureaucratic.
  • Heels/heals: If you use one or the other, know the difference.
  • Horseshoes, fastball: Both are one word.
  • Idaho: Never abbreviated. See stylebook when you aren’t sure of abbreviations.
  • Injuries/hurt: We’ve been through this one before. Your leg is injured. Your feelings are hurt. One is physical, the other mental.
  • Jargon. It’s easy to take on the tenor of who ever you are talking to. Consequently stories with cops and bureaucrats use phrases like “negatively impacted” where harmed would do nicely.
  • Jibe/jive: If you use one, know what it means.
  • Lacrosse: one word.
  • Laundromat: I don’t know why the capitalization, that is just how you spell it, per stylebook.
  • Legislative titles:  Consult the AP Stylebook, don’t guess. For instance, it would be “Sens. Patrick Leahy and Dianne Feinstein…”
  • “member of the community: “ This is one of my least favorite constructions and it pops up again and again in government stories. Why can’t we just say “people” or “residents” or “citizens” or something.
  • More than/over: “More than” speaks to quantity. Over refers to spatial relations. (I have more than 10 marbles. The marbles are over the desk.)
  • Mount: Spell out in all names, per AP, though some proper nouns may differ.
  • OK, not okay, per stylebook.
  • Onsite: one word.
  • Principal/principle: Know the difference.
  • Single quotes in headlines
  • “Some” Constructions such as “some 40 years” or “some 20 churchgoers” are just a pet peeve. It’s wordy and imprecise.
  • Teenaged: No. Look it up.
  • U.S.: Use the initials only for the adjective form. If you are using it as a noun, spell out United States. Same for U.N.
  • Whether or not: Don’t need the “or not.”
  • 12 noon: Redundant
  • 3-year-old: Not three-year-old
  1. I’m gonna cut and paste these by every SBCR’s or style-book challenged reporter’s desk, including my own. Some 20 years as a member of this journalism community, and invariably I’ll forget or outright screw up. I’ve been messing up on everything from okay and OK to U.S. and United States. I’m not jibing. I’m sure this has positively negative impact on readers.

  2. Please add a couple more when it comes to cop-speak. Individuals, while it’s nice to do our own thing, people works well. And transport, a pet peeve of mine. Most people wouldn’t say “I’m going to transport my son to the store of a new pair of shoes.” Take works better, don’t you think?

  3. On the members of the community note, see citizen in the stylebook as well…

  4. One of my pet peeves…writers who use the word “over” not referring to height, but to quantity; the correct words are “more than” For example, more than 300 people attended the rally, not over 300 people attended the rally

  5. What! No more terms like “thinclads,” or “harriers” for track, or cross country. Or, “grapplers,” or “matmen,” for wrestlers. “Gridders” for football.
    The opening game of a h.s. basketball season: “the lidlifter.”

    I agree w/David. My mother, a teacher, taught me “more than” so many years ago and it’s always stayed.

  6. Rebecca hit on one of my top peeves — writers who use “citizen” instead of “resident,” and editors who don’t pick up on that. This has become much more pronounced since Sept. 11, 2001. By the way, who had lacrosse as two words to put it on this list? I love watching La Crosss, especially with a nice glass of Le Monade in my Re Cliner.

  7. I so disagree with the AP Style Manual. It is frankly outdated. What I DO like about it online is the ability to make it your own, with changes that you, the editor/reporter/columnist, prefer. Who said the rules can’t be changed! F’rinstance, I consider a capital “P” for “president” is appropriate when referring the office in the White House. And I thoroughly disagree with the useless inclusion of “ue” in words ending in “g”. We are used to “catalog”; why not “dialog” and “monolog”? The American Heritage Dicationary is slowly making this word transition.

  8. Hey Val. I don’t necessarily wish to come to the defense of the AP — lord knows, they don’t need my help — but I think the point with most entries is simply consistency. I personally don’t care whether you spell it “dialog” or “dialogue” as long as you do it the same way every time throughout the paper. Seems to me that is difficult if everyone at the paper doesn’t have the same list of rules. That’s why I go with AP and then develop a local list of things that wouldn’t be in the stylebook.

  9. The AP actually now allows U.S. as a noun, too. I don’t like it.

  10. Seriously?! I’ve been railing about that one for years. Is it possible it changed recently? I have an old stylebook. I’ll try to get a newer one and update. Thanks, Jimmy.

  11. If you sign up for the online AP Style Book (www.apstylebook.com), they’ll e-mail you changes as they make them. It’s kinda cool. That is, if you’re a big geek like I am.

  12. I’m just going to throw in MY biggest pet peeve, and one that still shows up in print everywhere. For years, journalists have used “increasingly” as a haughty crutch, rather than simply stating what they want to say.

  13. Forgo (not forego) is preferred spelling. It forgoes the “e”!

  14. Also, “11th hour” (not “eleventh”) is correct, according to our reading of AP Stylebook’s “numerals” entry.

  15. Hmmm… perhaps we have different editions of the AP Stylebook, Billie. My 2004 edition says:
    “Eleventh: Spell out only in the phrase ‘eleventh hour.'” (Try looking up “eleventh” not the numeral notation.”
    “Forego, forgo: To forego means to go before; forgo means to abstain.”

    But I’ve been wrong before…

  16. Not only are you as geeked-out on style as I am, you’ve chosen the only sensible WordPress template for a respectable word junkie. Good show. Now back to “dialog” vs. “dialogue.” My inner journalist vs. gotta-keep-working pragmatist are waging a war over that one and it’s driving me nuts.

  17. I am amused at the people’s attitude in defending their position and wanting to put “their own” style in journalism…..what about the normal reader that won’t understand the wording of the writer??
    I think ego has a lot to do with not being humble enough to think of the readers understanding of what’s being written.

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