Television is about visual and sound. So writing for this medium involves the words and pictures. In writing the sound normally accompanies the images that appear on the screen. The writer should as such take note that pictures alone would not make meaning to the audience. When writing, the scriptwriter always indicates if there is need for a close up shot. This will give the identity of the subject in question. Words normally play a complimentary role in pictures whether in documentary, news, and drama or even in interview programmes.

It is a role that all figures above ten (10) must not be written in figures, but in words. The reason is that the announcer does not have enough time in trying to make sure that the accurate figure indicated in the script are announced to the public. For example, it would be difficult to read the following figures smoothly while on air. N2,797,840.15. But when written in words – Two million, seven hundred and ninety seven thousand, eight hundred and forty Naira and fifteen Kobo, it would be easier to read and understand.


At the end of this unit, you should be able to:

  1. properly explain writing and scripting for television 
  2. differentiate documentary from news writing 
  3.  write news and drama scripts for television production. 


3.1 Definition of Writing for Television

Writing for television programmes in blending of pictures with sound to produce a communication experience exhibited on the screen. It uses sound to explain the visuals presented on the screen. It addresses the emotion and the intellect, in a remarkable way (Owuamalam, 2007:238). As a dynamic medium, television uses the movement of images in a particular pattern to give expression to the thought and feeling in an interesting, exciting and appealing manner.

Those who conceive ideas for writing for television should, therefore, bear in mind at the start that what they are going to write must be accompanied with pictures, as words alone would not be sufficient to deliver the message intended for the targeted audience. The pictures must blend with the words to produce precisely what they intend the viewer to see and hear. For the picture and the words used complement each other to realise the objective of the programme. If, for instance, it were announced that a building has collapsed and killed a number of persons in any of the towns in Nigeria viewers would expect to be shown the collapsed building, with commentary by the reporter. They would be frustrated if the station fails show the people of the building or the people affected.
In writing for television, since words go along with pictures, words have to be carefully selected, arranged and presented in such a way that they make an imprint on the minds of the station’s audience.


  1. In writing for television, why must pictures be matches with words? 

3.2 Writing News for Television

There are many verities of newscasts as there are news organisations. Virtually all newscasts contain commercial breaks, sports and weather forecast, which a writer should not forget to include while writing news.

New Hole: Before the writer fills his newscast, he must determine how much time is at his disposal. The total amount of time required covers commercial breaks, sports and weather. This is called the “Skeleton time” or “Killer time” and when this time is subtracted from the total available time, what is left is known as the “News Hole”. Even the remaining time is subject to adjustment depending on the length of the commercial breaks.
Tuggle, Carr and Huffman (2001:141) say that time left can also expand and contract depending on amount of time devoted to sport and weather. For this reason, news writers and producers frequently ask sports and weathercasters to donate time.

In writing news, the writer should use simple everyday words, short sentences; however they must be concise and precise to the point. He or she should not use figures for numbers that are more than 10.

The television news writer does not have an easy task. He or she has to produce scripts within a short time and they must not be more than the time allotted to the news.
Let the Pictures Describe It is very irritating to hear extravagant detail description of news that can clearly be seen by viewers. He or she should identify people and explain action, let the people and action speak for themselves.
Use of Tenses In most cases the writer should use present tense as it carries an air of immediacy and it sounds simple. Past tense can be used when the action is actually in the past for it also has the air that goes with completed action.
Priority The inverted pyramid system of News writing accepted by the print media is not suitable for television News casting. This is not to say that the lead story should not be important. If the lead story is not important, viewers are likely to switch to another station and may not come back to your station.
Flow Tuggle et al (2001:143) say good writers do group their stories somewhat according to theme and then group the theme in logical order, taking News worthiness into account.

After placing the most important story for the lead, it does not necessarily follow that the second story must be the next important. The writer should have these stories in sequence.
Pacing The story should not be crammed into the top of the news block then running the less important at the end of the block. This is the most terrible thing a writer would do. And each idea in the news forms a paragraph on its own. All under no circumstances should words by hyphenated on two lines. If a word cannot be written on a line and must be cut or carried over to the other line leave the space blank and write the word in full on the next line. Starting words and carrying or finishing them on another line makes it difficult to read smoothly.


Why must a writer for television news use economy of words?

3.3 Writing Television Documentary

Writing for television in its entire ramification takes similar format. The steps taken in writing television News generally apply also to documentaries. However, the documentary should not follow these steps slavishly. The documentary techniques should vary according to documentary situations. The writer should not forget to use words sparingly, that is he should use few words over film and most of the description should come mainly from the picture. The writer should also note that overwriting would mar his production.

If certain terms are used that need explanation, the writer should indicate that so that the person doing the voice over film should take note. Writing documentary call for disciplined approach, in some cases the shape, content and scripts are decided in detail in advance. The aim is to sustain interest throughout film lasting anything from about fifteen minute to one hour or more and with careful planning it is possible to create peaks of interest at set intervals (Yorke, 2000:141).


  1. In what way is writing documentaries the same with writing television news? 

3.4 Writing Drama

Warritay (1986:68) says unlike the documentary, drama programme writing is fiction; it is similar to a novel or a play. Even when the drama is about the historical event, the actors and actresses, and the location are not originals but imitations of them. If however, the actors and locations are the originals, then the programme is a dramatised documentary.

The drama scriptwriter should make sure that one idea flows into another in a scene. And one action leads to another in a sequence. If there is flash back the writer should indicate so that both the director and the actors know their direction. In drama since the crew have almost total control of the production, the scripts are made complete with respect to the audio column. The video column is left for the director to work on according to the shots he wants given to him.


  1. How does Drama differ from documentary? 

3.5 Semi-Scripted and Fully- Scripted Format

In a full scripted format of writing whether for News or drama production on any television production with all the words to be read or spoken by the announcer or the actor, as stated by Owuamalam (2007:240), accompanying visual are complimentary to the sound produced by the actor, and this must be indicated at the appropriate place showing their duration of exposure in the programme such as indicating the place of videotapes recorder (VTR) that is where it should be placed or located. Anything that is to be used in the production has to be indicated for example, where there is supposed to be sound on the tape (SOT) or sound over film (SOF) should be indicated.

In drama, all the words to be spoken by actors and actresses should be provided. Their duty would be to memories the lines and only recite them at the appropriate time during production. In a semi scripted format the action or the situation is described. The actors and the actresses fill in the gap with their own words. They use their imaginations and provide the dialogue.


  1. Which format would you prefer, semi-scripted or full scripted, and why? 


Since television is an audio-visual medium, the writer for the medium should be able to tell the stories in the language which is accurate, clear, simple, direct, natural, concise and precise and to the point. He should write as he speaks. Sentences should be short. It is wrong grammar to say, “I see the University is preparing to launch a twenty million Naira appeal fund”.


In writing for Television you should where possible, tell the stories in a chronological order. Make one short sentence, one thought. Understand what you write. Do not allow double standard, carelessness or insensitivities get into the broadcast material. The writer should avoid stock phrase, clichés and stupidities; he should also avoid the use of slang and acronyms.


  1. What are the requirements of a good Television scripts? 
  2.  Describe fully-scripted and semi-scripted television programmes? 
  3. Why is a script necessary for production?


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