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Journalists should never...

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Poynter is compiling a list of 100 things Journalists should never do via Twitter. The participants have made some good suggestions, but they're still a long way from 100.

When I saw the article on Poynter Online, one of my pet peeves immediately jumped to mind. So here's #1 for me: Journalists should never use esoteric language. In other words, journalists shouldn't use words that only a highly educated or specialized group of people can understand.

In my time at the copy desk this semester I've come across several rather obscure words. While journalists, who work with the English language on a daily basis may understand these words, all readers do not have the same vocabulary.

One of the main jobs of a journalist is to take large amounts of data and information and make it understandable and relevant to the readers. Local news outlets must be sure that the content they publish is understandable for readers with doctorates, elementary school teachers, high school students, and sales associates.

More specialized publications, such as the Wall Street Journal can get away with specialized vocabulary and information. But others need to remember their audience.

Comments

AnnaUndercover 5 years, 4 months ago

Politics and the English Language for the win.

Lauren Keith 5 years, 4 months ago

I agree that journalists should write in terms that everyone understands, but what does that mean exactly? What grade level should we be writing at? Is it possible to "dumb down" very complex topics?

AnnaUndercover 5 years, 4 months ago

@lauren_keith I'd like to think the objective is to avoid using a big word where a small one will do.

jimmyjms 5 years, 4 months ago

Don't most newspapers write to a 6th grade level?

ashleym 5 years, 4 months ago

lauren, Honestly I'm not really sure what grade level we should be aiming at. Perhaps jr. high or high school level. But I agree with what AnnaUndercover said - we should pick a more commonly used word rather than one that says the same thing but makes us look really smart.

I think it is possible to "dumb down" complex topics. It requires providing more background, which may mean a couple more inches of the paper but I think it's worth it. Writers just need to learn to think about things in simpler terms, as if they were explaining it to someone completely new to the subject.

dlowell 5 years, 4 months ago

Ashley, I agree with you here. But I myself have trouble staying away from language that might be inaccessible to some. Having written a fair share of science stories, it's difficult to distinguish between language that I might understand and language my reader might understand. For instance, I did a story last year on using "green" catalysts in industrial processes. While I found it interesting and easy to understand, I cannot say the same for those that read it. It's a tough thing to do, and a strange task to simplify further things you already understand.

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