Short and sweet: The 7 words in a sentence rule.

One of our biggest passions at is writing.  We’ve made no secret that we feel the writing in television news has gone way downhill in many cases.  The good news is many of you agree and keep asking us for more “secrets” to improve writing.  Thank you.  Your desire to keep growing as writers inspires us.  It also makes us dish more secrets!

Here’s an oldie but a goodie that should become one of your top writing rules.  Keep sentences, in news copy, to 7 words or less. (Some demand 5, we like a little leeway.)   Yes, that’s short.  Grab a few stories you just wrote, and see how many sentences would pass that test.  I recently went on a trip and saw newscasts in several market sizes.  Guess what, the writing was wordy in all of them.  This is something all of us can work on and improve.

Why such a mandate?  Why put a limit on words?  The reason is simple.  It forces the writer to really understand the subject and make each word count.  You cannot exaggerate or talk around unclear facts in 5 to 7 words.  A lot of managers use the 5 words standard on reporters for the first line of packages.  It is a common trick to keep them from starting off weak.  When you start strong, you tend to stay strong.  Producers are told to never go past 7 words in cold opens and teases.  Bottom line, you should keep 7 words or less as your goal all the time.  Declarative sentences are pleasing to the ear and easy for anchors to deliver with authority.  Another place where you should challenge yourself to limit your sentences is reporter intros during live shots.  These often drag on and feel like fill.  Short sentences eliminate that.

Now, to be clear, we realize every sentence you write in news copy will not be this short.  But most can be.  Give it a try.  You might fall in love with your new clearer writing style.