Writing skills

“Good writing is all about choosing the right words.”

When I was at university I decided… you can’t be taught to write. I studied Creative Writing as a minor – we would write 1,000 word stories weekly, and give feedback in workshops on other people’s work. Some stories I read and thought – this is awful, to then hear the award-winning author tutor say ‘It’s so creative and abstract’. I never got it. I still don’t. What we can be taught, is to improve on writing, and to avoid mistakes and the obvious DON’Ts.

I have received improvements and advice on my writing throughout my education that I have taken on board and understand straight away. Things that have been really helpful. But I find this to be rare, the vague feedback I got from tutors at university used to go in one ear and out the other. And the difference between writing a ‘descriptive story’ and writing a ‘succinct news story’ is huge. I recently found this on the BBC journalism site:


He wrote (succinctly) which I found really easy to read, and easy to understand. Here’s a summary:


“Good writing is all about choosing the right words to say precisely what you mean.

Simplicity is the key to understanding. Short words in short sentences present the listener or reader with the fewest obstacles to comprehension.

The writer should start with a clear understanding of the information he or she is trying to communicate and be clear about what it is the writing is trying to achieve. That might be telling a story, evoking atmosphere, explaining something complex or simply tempting the audience to stay with you.

Regardless of style, clarity and simplicity are at the heart of a successful radio dispatch, TV intro or online feature.

If your average sentence is 16 words, your sentences are too long

Some of the main audience complaints about the BBC’s use of English are a sharp reminder of what people care about most:

  • Bad grammar

  • Americanisms

  • Jargon

  • Journalese

  • Insensitivity

  • Confusing the issue

  • Slang

It is our job to communicate clearly and effectively, to be understood without difficulty, and to offer viewers and listeners an intelligent use of language which they can enjoy. Good writing is not a luxury; it is an obligation.”

In the video, Allan offered personal insights into what makes clear, engaging writing, talking specifically about radio. I didn’t watch it all… but here it is:




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