Simple Communication Part Two: How Journalists Write for Wide Audiences 

In our first part, we looked at the way people read – and how this can inform how we write. In this post we move on to look at ploys to order information, learning how journalists, storytellers and other communicators use ploys to improve communication

Tips from news writing

Journalists are trained to write for a wide readership with a variety of reading abilities, who have no reason to read their story at all. As a result, they are taught to write in a particular way that helps them to convey information in concise and simple way.


Talk to a stranger

As a journalist, I learned a simple exercise for writing, called the ‘person in the pub’ test. It could just as easily be the ‘person on the bus’ or ‘person in the cafe’ test, however. When trying to explain something that wasn’t familiar to most people, I’d imagine talking to a stranger for a short time. It would help me remove information that wasn’t helpful and concentrate on the most important facts to convey them in a relatable way.

Tip: imagine you are speaking or writing to someone with no assumed knowledge of the subject


Avoid jargon

Words that belong to a profession or a niche subject interest can seem simple to one audience, while baffling another. Journalists are taught to avoid these words completely. Jargon can include: 

  • Slang that is only used by a particular group of people, 
  • Technical words 
  • Abbreviations or acronyms 


Be direct

Being direct in what you write is just as important as using simple words and short sentences. For example, journalists learn to use active rather than passive voice when they write because they tend to be easier to understand.

In an active sentence, a subject does something. For example:

Jenny drew a map

In a passive sentence, the subject has something done to it.

A map was drawn by Jenny

Tip: try to be as direct and simple as you can


Use headlines 

Headlines lure readers into a story, so every word is chosen carefully. Typically that means signposting the story in the headline: “Experts vote cheese as number-one food”. A well worn maxim is that 80 per cent of people only read the headline. But we can’t find where that statistic ever came from!

Tip: Use headlines to give people the information they are going to read about


Guidance for using these tips: