Posts Tagged ‘writers’

Double-Check Your So-Called Facts

While interviewing some folks for an article that I was writing about the local horse industry, I heard a comment repeated that I’ve heard from time to time during the 20 years that I’ve lived in Parker, Colo.

I was told that Douglas County (Colo.) has the largest horse population per capita in the nation.

Since I was writing an article for the Parker Chamber of Commerce’s annual magazine, I decided it was time to try and find someone who might know if that claim is actually true. Yes, I’ve heard it for years. Yes, the person who said it recently also has heard it for years.

The information was repeated, but it was never actually verified. It was time for me to put on my reporter’s cap and do some digging into the truth.

Guess what? I couldn’t verify the claim. In fact, after making calls to numerous people involved with horses and the horse industry statewide, most said they didn’t know. Only one person said he doubted the statement could be true and gave me some information that would lead one to believe that no way could the claim be factual.

The more I thought about it, the more I thought it was crazy to believe the same claim for 20 years – especially with the area’s incredible population explosion over that same time period.

This is a good lesson for citizen journalists and writers of all kinds. Just because you hear a statement of so-called fact repeated over and over, does not make it true. It is always best to find an expert who should be able to tell you whether the information you’ve heard is factual or absolutely absurd.

So don’t repeat everything you hear as fact – even if you’ve heard it for years and from multiple people. Do your due diligence to uncover whether the information is a myth or reality.

Susan Cormier is the co-author of the “Handbook for Citizen Journalists” (http://www.citizenjournalistnow.com/)

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03

03 2012

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 http://www.citizenjournalistnow.com/.

Susan Cormier is the head coach in charge of training at the National Association of Citizen Journalists (http://www.nacj.us/) and co-author of the “Handbook for Citizen Journalists” (http://www.citizenjournalistnow.com/).

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29

04 2011

Zinsser to Writers: Take Readers on a Journey and Trust Your Instincts

A recent interview with the author of “On Writing Well” brought up some good writing points that are worth repeating.

Author William Zinsser highlighted five tips in his interview with Mallary Jean Tenore of Poynter.org. Two of the five really resonated with me. They were to take your readers on a journey and to have confidence in yourself as a writer.

“All writing to me is a journey. It’s saying to the reader, ‘Come along with me; I’ll take you on a voyage’,” Zinsser was quoted as saying in Tenore’s article.

Zinsser also said that too often people become so preoccupied with writing well that they clutter their stories with unnecessary words that lead readers astray. Good writers make every word count, and they avoid abstractions, he told Tenore.

“Nobody wants abstractions,” Zinsser said. “They want specific details that help them discover something new.”

I totally agree. Unnecessary words tend to take away from the point of an article. I think readers want to know what any story is about in a short and to-the-point manner. Take out the cutesy, fluff words and write it straight.

The second tip that I loved was to “have confidence in yourself as a writer.”

Confidences comes with trusting your instincts as a writer and learning to advocate for the stories you want to write, Zinsser said in the interview.

The word instincts took me back to the days when I was a young editor and reporter for Cox Newspapers in Arizona. My boss during some of those years, Hal DeKeyser, used to always tell me to trust my instincts.

It was advice that he often had to repeat. But in the end, it stuck with me and has served me well to this day.

By the way, the other three writing tips were to:

• Think of writing as a process, not a product;
• Write for yourself, not others; and
• Don’t take yourself too seriously.

Susan Cormier is the head coach in charge of training at the National Association of Citizen Journalists (http://nacj.us/) and co-author of the “Handbook for Citizen Journalists” (http://www.citizenjournalistnow.com/).

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22

01 2011