Home Introduction to journalism ESSENTIALS OF JOURNALISTIC STYLE


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This unit is about journalistic style. It examines different types of style in writing and zeroes on elements that make good style.


On successful completion of this unit, you should be able to:

  1. Define the meaning of the word, ‘Style’; 
  2. Explain the various kinds of style and the style suitable for journalists;
  3. Identify and make use of the elements essential for good journalistic writing.


3.1 Style: Meaning and Dimensions

The term “Style” means different things to different people, under different situations, context or places. Its meaning ranges from the way a man lives to the latest in the world of fashion. When applied to writing, style refers to anything from the philosophy and personality of the writer to his choice of words in sentences. According to McCrimmon (1974), style is a product of all the choice a writer makes in working out the implication of his purpose. If the choices are consistent, they reveal:

  1. His view of the real subject. 
  2. His view of readers. 
  3.  His person or personality. 
  4. The kind of material he selects 

• The way he structures, restructures and expresses his ideas, including the tone of his writing. The sum of all these factors make up a style. In essence therefore a description of any piece of writing is an explanation of the means by which the writer works out his purpose. So, there is a link between purpose and style. Purpose controls style while style reveals purpose.

3.2 Types of Style 

There are basically three types or kinds of style in writing. These are: Formal, Informal and Colloquial Styles.

3.2.1 The Formal Style

It is often called the academic style. It is characterised by a tone that is high-sounding, dignified and eloquent. The sentences are usually long, complex and refined in structure. It adheres to the strict syntactic demands of a particular language. The vocabulary is usually extensive, largely drawn from foreign and specialized/technical fields of learning like law, medicine, psychology. Such words are mostly used by those that are educated, and not by the uneducated. Other characteristics of formal style include avoidance of contractions (I’ve, can’t don’t) and clipped words like (exam, auto, ad). The paragraphs too, are usually long; the tone impersonal while the social distance between the reader and writer is generally official. This kind of style is not embraced by the journalist or popular in journalism practice.mostly

3.2.2 The Informal Style

This is a style that is multi-dimensional. It can be used for occasions like lectures, newspaper, broadcast etc. The diction here is a mixture of the formal style and that of colloquial. So, the popular diction is normally emphasized. By popular diction, one is referring to words which are used by a wide section of the populace, educated, uneducated. Compare the following learned and popular words:

  1. Learned 
  2. Popular 
  3. Abdomen Belly 
  4. Capitulate Surrender 
  5. Corpulent Fat 
  6. Myopic 
  7. Short sighted 
  8. Facilitate 
  9. Make easy. 
Informal style is often more concrete and down to earth than formal ones that may appear abstract. That is, the diction of the informal style easily allows one to smell, see, touch or taste the object Sentences here are normally shorter than formal ones. The paragraphs, described. the tone and social distance between the writer and the reader is not wide, rather the reader can be addressed personally by using words such as ‘you’, ‘me’. These are not common in formal style.

3.2.3 The Colloquial Style

This is a style of writing that is basically conversational. It uses the kind of words and expressions people use when they are together informally. Such a style is used in writing when the writer wants to give quite the impression of talking directly and intimately to his reader. When he does, all formal terms would be avoided while contraction, words and clichés would be generally used. The sentences are usually clipped very short, mainly the S-V-O (Subject-Verb-Object) sequence. The paragraphs are also short. This kind of writing is not common journalism practice, except for special effect or used by a in columnist. notable

3.3 Essentials of Good Journalistic Writing

News writing is an art whose skills have to be acquired. Like a sculptor, who has to chisel out something from the wood using perceived dimensions and procedures, the journalist employs the necessary tools of words or language in their appropriate forms, to accomplish his/her task. It is these forms that are broadly expressed as the “essentials of good journalistic writing” or, the 9cs and S. They are:

  1.  Clarity 
  2. Conciseness 
  3. Correctness 
  4. Courteousness 
  5. Candidness
  6.  Concreteness 
  7.  Completeness 
  8. Coherence 
  9. Concord 
  10.  Simplicity 

3.3.1 Clarity

Clarity in news writing requires that the reader is left in no doubt as to the meaning of words in sentences. A word or groups of expression with more than one meaning should be replaced with a simple and clearer one. The good writer takes great pain of going an extra mile to ensure that he presents only one possible meaning. A news story that is open to more than one interpretation is dangerous to the reader, writer or society, because the multi-phase of such interpretations can lead to a confused society.

3.3.2 Conciseness

Conciseness deals with the necessity to be brief. A concise write-up is that which has to be written in a succinct way, avoiding pointless elaboration, exaggeration, tautology or circumlocution. A concise writer is one who does not strain after words or phrases. If he does this, he ends up using unnecessary jargons or clichés. According to Alexander Dope in one of his literary criticisms, words are like leaves; and where they are most abound, much fruit is rarely found”. Conciseness in writing has the merits of:

  1. Saving space especially in newspaper where available pages are pre-scheduled. Or, in broadcast where time is the greatest asset constraint to pointless elaboration. and
  2. It spares much effort and achievement as well as give vigour and directness to writing. 

3.3.3 Correctness

A news report must be correct in all aspects. It is one of the important commandments of news writing. It is linked to the question of most truthfulness and credibility. Correctness means checking and cross- checking figures, names of persons, town/cities, facts, spellings, maps etc. For local or even international names or places, there is always a stylebook or a resource person(s) who should assist in ensuring that the facts are made available. The dictionary, in its various forms can also be very useful in this connection.

3.3.4 Courteousness 

Any writer that fails to take into account the sensibility of his readers, in terms of showing politeness or restraints in the use of language lacks polish and civility. This attitude readily offends the reader and sometimes classified as one of the features of “low-brow journalism”. is There are a number of words or expressions that are not acceptable in polite writing. Many of them are those that depict sexual desires, racial slurs or profanities that are utterly against religious personalities beliefs. or

A polite expression or language as well as the filthy one is determined by the society. The reporter must therefore empathize with his society and present only those aspects of language, which his culture does not frown at. For instance, words like: ‘Hell’, “shift, Down”, fuck, “under below” may mean different things to different societies. Although these words may pass for slang, they are sometimes fuzzy, imprecise and lack courtesy. Courteousness in writing also includes some standardized and general reference to personal titles and compliments.

3.3.5 Candidness

Being candid means that a report must be fair, frank, straight-forward, objective, and sincere in purpose. Although, the doctrine of fairness is often viewed as a threat to press freedom, it has, nevertheless, endowed the practice of journalism with a certain level of responsibility and service. This doctrine can also be seen as an aspect of the responsibility view of mass media practice.  social So, the attribute of candidness demands that publishing one side of a story without a reasonable effort to get to know and present the other with all sense of frankness is dishonest and wicked. Thus, it is not enough for a reporter to say “when I called in his office to get his side of the story, he was not on seat”. Since this can alter the charge of reporters biases or prejudices.

3.3.6 Concreteness

This concerns writing about actualities or particular events, persons, rather than generalities or abstractions. The need to write about concrete issues or events is felt more in the presentation of news and feature columns. Although the writer can report events in other context or in abstraction, as metaphors for explaining his own situational problem in the country. This should be done in a manner that the explanation is not lost in the minds on the readers.

3.3.7 Completeness

This calls for a reporter’s readiness to present a total picture of an event i.e. the whole story, complete with all the essential parts. It calls for the inclusion of the necessary details about an issue in order to add some kind of muscle to the report. This has an added advantage of making a story clearer and leaving no room for guesses that might open pathways to misinterpretations. A complete picture is more useful than individual parts. If stoppages become unavoidable, then a report should be serialised. Yet, each part of the serial package should be meaningful and complete in relation to other parts.

3.3.8 Coherence

A report may have unity but lacks coherence. Coherence has to do with the sticking together, logically, of the parts that make up all story. It means every part in terms of ideas, facts, or details should have connection with the central idea of the story. Such a balanced flow in news writing can be achieved through the use of link words like: but, although, besides, meanwhile, except, however, nevertheless, also, etc.

3.3.9 Concord

Concord ordinarily means “agreement or harmony”. Such agreement or harmony is required in news writing. Although there is no distinct line between what makes coherence different form concord, it can be said that agreement or concord starts from the construction of sentences. How the different parts of sentences are co-ordinated for meaningful interpretation. It includes the subject-verb agreement or pronoun- antecedent agreement. From here, it gradually joins up with agreement of parts from the introduction through the body to conclusion.

3.3.10 Simplicity 

The purpose of news writing is to communicate meanings through news and not to confound or confuse. Therefore, a reporter must understand the background of his audience to enable him choose and use words that are not difficult or cumbersome enough to leave them searching for a dictionary. A good reporter must always replace difficult words with simpler ones. Even the technical register of some disciplines or exclusive slang can be explained or illustrated where necessary.


The use of the elements essential for good journalistic writing is a “sine qua non” for the successful journalist. Obey the listed rules and the result will be obvious.


In this unit, you have learnt that:

  1. Journalism writing is one of the known styles of writing.
  2. The known styles of writing are (1) formal, (2) informal and colloquial.
  3.  Journalism writing, depending on the subject matter and editorial policy of the establishment can use a blend of the three styles or confine itself to formal or informal styles. 
  4. Good journalistic style depends on the good use of 9Cs and S. 


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