Most journalists follow one rule of thumb: They write for a sixth to eighth grade reading level. One of the first and most basic skills a journalist learns is to cut out difficult words and complex sentence structure. We even shun the use of potentially complicated punctuation. Our colleagues and editors push us to “make it tight.” As a former English major, I marveled at this rule.
How was I supposed to make my writing interesting? Who wants to read a bunch of short sentences pounded out like a machine gun? I also became deeply concerned with the concept of propagating “dumbed down” writing. I felt that journalists should have more faith in their readers.
As I swam deeper and deeper into the world of journalism, however, I gradually realized the beauty of tight writing. Concise writing has a number of benefits. By cutting out unnecessary fluff, I can post a story with immediacy. The straightforward nature of tight writing also eliminates potential confusion. I just write the facts as they are.
This writing style also keeps me from unconsciously inserting too much of myself into a story. I can write what happened, and not use a plethora of overly descriptive adjectives that emphasize the story the way I see it.
Furthermore, there is still room for creativity in tight writing. In feature writing, I can describe the colors, sights and smells of my surroundings. I can write a suspenseful lede and still be true to the facts.
Ultimately, my job is to inform readers, and concise writing allows me to do this with immediacy and accuracy. As William Faulkner said, “In writing, you must kill all your darlings.”