Common Writing Mistakes Corrected

While doing an incredible amount of editing lately, I’ve noticed that writers and citizen journalists are making some of the same mistakes.

In an effort to cut down on my editing marks, I thought I’d outline how citizen journalist can avoid three errors I keep seeing over and over again.

1) Start your story with the newest information available. Your lead – or first paragraph – should include the news that just happened. That news can – and should – be followed by background information about previous events or developments related to the most recent news.

Let’s take a fictitious example of a new statewide campaign to protect the elderly that was announced April 28. The campaign was launched because of a February 2011 report that noted a spike in assaults on the elderly. Your story should lead with the new campaign – not the old news about February’s report on abuse. But your story should include a paragraph further down about that February report.

2) Put quotes in separate paragraphs. When you use paraphrases and direct quotes from a source, give the direct quotes their own paragraph. Always put quotes from different sources in their own paragraph. Do not combine quotes from separate individuals in one paragraph.

3) Comma use when dealing with a list of items is often confusing. Use commas to separate the individual items in the list – except before the conjunction “and” or “or.” It would be: The class included students from the fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth grades.

There is an exception. You would put a comma before the conjunction if the list of items contains one item that also has a conjunction, such as: Freelancers, bloggers, unpaid student interns, and citizen and professional journalists are covering the royal wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton on April 29.

These are the types of tips that are included in the “Handbook for Citizen Journalists,” which can be purchased online at

Susan Cormier is the head coach in charge of training at the National Association of Citizen Journalists ( and co-author of the “Handbook for Citizen Journalists” (

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About The Author

NACJ trainer

Susan Carson Cormier is a co-founder of the National Association of Citizen Journalists and co-author of the "Handbook for Citizen Journalists." As the head coach at the NACJ, Cormier is in charge of training citizen journalists the basics in how to report and write news, sports and feature stories.

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04 2011

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