conversation. You will even find that we do not always
talk in complete sentences. Quite often we speak in
fragments, especially if everyone engaged in the
conversation is familiar with the subject matter.
Nevertheless, do not get too carried away with this
idea. While the strict grammatical rules we have used
during years of education might not have a direct
application to broadcast writing, they are still valuable.
Verb tense agreement and subject-verb agreement, in
particular, are still important, especially for the sake of
Since broadcasters report events as they happen, the
present tense is the natural tense. Using the present tense
in broadcast news gives the copy an air of immediacy
and it gives the listener a sense of participation.
However, the verb tense that is most natural to a
situation will be the most effective. Every story does not
have to sound as if it happened the moment before the
newscaster went on the air.
Write your broadcast copy in the active voice. The
active voice will help you tell your story more quickly
and effectively. It also gives the story a sense of
immediacy. Active voice provides impact, which is
extremely important to a competitive broadcaster. On
the other hand, the use of passive voice normally
weakens the impact of a sentence. Look at the following
Example: THE MILITARY POLICEWOMAN
SEIZED THE EVIDENCE. (Active)
THE EVIDENCE WAS SEIZED BY
THE MILITARY POLICEWOMAN.
If you write the copy to sound like old news, then it
will probably be treated as no news. Further, writing
stories that will be happening far in the future is just as
Do not confuse the active voice with verb tenses.
The active voice can apply to past, present and future
tenses. Active voice does not necessarily mean the
present tense! Subject-verb-object is the best indicator
of the active voice structure.
A sure way to improve broadcast copy is to shorten
sentence lengths. Long sentences are difficult to
understand and are equally difficult for an announcer to
read. Remember, the announcer has to breathe! Further,
the announcers ability to breathe naturally will directly
affect the pace and phrasing of the story. Again, the
sentence has to sound natural. A good average length for
broadcast sentences is 20 words. Do not go over 25
words. This is not a magic number, but it does work.
Sentences longer than this tend to be saddled with
unnecessary clauses or multiple thoughts. More often
than not, those additional clauses can be treated as
independent phrases. Broadcast sentences starting with
and, but or because, for example, are perfectly
acceptable as long as they sound natural.
You should vary the length of sentences also. Do not
peg your sentences to that 20-word mark. Try to mix
lengths. If all the sentences are the same length, the copy
becomes very stilted and sounds like a laundry list.
When possible, give the copy a little rhythm, a natural
flow that approximates a conversation. The end result
of proper sentence lengths is broadcast copy that stands
abetter chance of being understood by the audience.
As stated earlier, the most important sentence in
your broadcast copy is the lead. The lead should grab
the listeners attention and set the tone for the rest of the
information. Brevity and conciseness play an important
part in the lead sentence. The general what happened
lead is usually the most effective. This lead also can help
localize the story. There are several reasons for the
what happened lead. In broadcast copy, based on the
premise of headline service, there just is not sufficient
time for you to deal with all the complexities of a story.
Only one or two of the Ws might be dealt with at
times. Granted, this may sacrifice some of the meaning
of the story, but it is also a fact of life. Additionally, the
broadcaster is usually working within a given time
frame for a story. Some stories may be only 10
seconds in length; others may run longer. The copy is
not edited by whacking off the last sentence, since the
last sentence also is quite important to a broadcaster. The
last sentence is often used to make a specific point or as
QUESTION AND QUOTATION LEADS
Generally, questions and quotations are not used in
the lead of hard news stories. Since your listener cannot