When journalistic and academic writing collide



As I sat at my computer hammering out a paper for my Contemporary Literature class, I came to a realization.

I have to go back and fix my lead, I thought to myself. The rest of the paper really doesn’t support it well.

Of course, by my “lead,” I meant the introductory paragraph, but I was in a journalistic frame of mind. Subconsciously, I probably thought I was writing an article.

I didn’t realize how blurred the worlds of journalistic and English paper writing had become for me until a Spectrum staff writer and fellow English major came to me for advice on the subject.

“The editors told me my article was too descriptive and not objective enough,” the writer told me. “I’m used to writing like this in my English classes, so I’m having trouble changing my style.”

I advised the writer to avoid flowery language, and to keep adjectives and adverbs to a minimum in news writing. I told her to always leave her opinion out of a news article. I also discussed some stylistic elements, namely the shorter paragraph length in news articles.

As I spoke to this beginning writer, I felt like I was giving myself advice as well. Countless times, I’ve resisted the urge to hit the “enter” key in a research paper after typing two sentences. In many of my Spectrum articles, I battle with the desire to include adjectives or to voice my opinion on an issue.

This weekend, I had to refresh myself on MLA style techniques, because AP style was at the fore of my mind. I grumbled to myself, thinking, why do I have to know how to write like this?  What is a paper for an English class going to do for me if I know I want to report news for the rest of my life?

Truth be told, my English paper writing can help me to develop my journalistic skills.  The more I practice my writing, whether it is for an article, a research paper, or a blog, the stronger a writer I will become.  My English papers enable me to develop the inquisitive, analytic mindset journalists need.

With practice, one day I’ll be able to effortlessly transition between my journalistic and academic voices.  I can only hope that my mastery of two distinct writing styles will make me an asset in the job market.


One response to “When journalistic and academic writing collide

  1. Content: 4 Interesting topic — very timely, well-presented. I think all academics could benefit from six months on a news desk. Writing for news teaches the power of brevity and clarity. Too often academics hide cloudy thinking behind obscure phrasing and jargon. If you can think clearly you ought to be able to write clearly, too. That’s my mantra.

    My academic friends often ask me to edit their papers before submission. I usually cut them by half.

    Once a friend asked me to help write an entry for an archaeology encyclopedia. I ended up rewriting the whole entry (beware about offering your services! It can get time consuming.) The committee liked the entry so much that they now use it as a model and send it to everyone asked to submit an entry. I didn’t work any magic. I used the basic lessons of journalism.

    On editing: The best way to learn to write is to write and the second best way is to edit. You learn much about yourself when you see other people’s mistakes.

    Links: 3 Thanks for the style link. Never knew about that. It might be useful sometime, though.

    Grammar: 3 I’d like to sit with you one day and talk about writing. You are a good writer, but you could be better. Perhaps after I get a look at Assignment 1, let’s set a time to sit down and look at your prose.

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