Writing for media can be a challenging task. It can be hard to translate thoughts onto paper. Knowing exactly what the media or your audience are interested in might not be obvious. How do you put an authentic spin on a topic?
In reality, however, the process is actually not as difficult as it may immediately seem.
Our team at BlueSky Education is highly-experienced at understanding what it is top publications and journalists are after, and have put together some top tips to make writing for media a less daunting task.
Firstly, there is nothing wrong with asking for guidance, as Stephanie Mullins says, “Ask for help! Is there an internal or external communications team at your university that can help you?” In fact, this is a really great place to start.
The communications team will be able to tell you what publication you are writing for, and from there you can investigate what the newspaper tends to focus on, whether that be the economy, politics, sustainability – it could be a range of things. There also more general topics that all media newspapers take an interest in, so there is always something to write about!
They might even be able to tell you the name of the journalist you will be in touch with. With this information, you can research more about who you will be speaking with, find out what they are interested in or what stories they usually write on. In turn, you will be able to tailor your writing to what appeals to them.
In addition, communications teams are used to interacting with journalists and writing article – so if you need them, use them! This might be to proof your work to check for spelling mistakes or typos, or for tips on how to write a good email. And don’t forget, the more you do something – the better you become at it. So, over time, this is something that will come more and more naturally to you, so don’t worry if you get it wrong at first!
Another important point to consider when writing for media, as Kate Mowbray says, is “remember what you’re saying needs to be accessible for everyone.”
Although you will understand what your research entails inside out, not everyone will be as knowledgeable on the subject. You might be writing for a very broad audience, and chances are they will know nothing about the topic. Therefore, you need to make sure that your writing will be accessible to everyone; that people will be able to read it and come away learning something, as opposed to being confused.
One way to do this, which Katie Hurley points out, is to “keep your writing simple and jargon free – don’t embellish what you’re saying.” By using shorter words instead of longer words, simple words instead of complex words, and taking out words that don’t need to be there, you make your writing much more understandable. A reader doesn’t want to be looking up every other word in the dictionary – they will quickly lose interest.
“Alongside keeping the language clear,” Jonny Stone says, “reference points are always helpful for the reader. Examples are a must.” This can often help the reader visualise what you are talking about, and understand the research in terms of real life situations.
However, simplifying your language doesn’t mean that your writing needs to be boring.
As Kerry Ruffle says, “Be relatable, relevant, and realistic: Use plain language but don’t be afraid to offer character or opinion. That’s a big part of why your perspectives are so interesting to the media.” And this leads onto the next point…
Tell a story
You need to engage the audience and media you are talking to. Peter Remon says, “It sounds simple, but make sure there’s a short introduction setting the scene, a middle discussing the topic, and a summary at the end – don’t just throw your information at the audience and expect them to follow it correctly.” A punchy headline and introduction can really be the make or break of your article because it has the potential to entice a reader and encourage them to carry on reading.
Once you have caught their attention, make sure you keep it! Showcase the best of your work, pick the most interesting bits, reveal some shocking stats. Be confident in what you are writing – you know what you are talking about!
Stick to deadlines
One final piece of advice, as Kyle Grizzell points out, is “if you have been given a deadline by a journalist, respect the deadline. It looks even better if you get it back to them a day or so before the deadline.” Keeping track of time can sometimes be difficult given busy schedules, or being a perfectionist perhaps you want every sentence to be spot on. But if you have been set a deadline, be sure that you meet it. This will ensure, on the journalist’s end, that they can proof your work and get it to the publication or print in time – remember that writing for the media is often a shared goal, where there can be deadlines beyond the one you have been set. It also means that you will have a smoother flow of work – you know what are you expected to deliver and when.
Writing for media can be a rewarding task – you get to impart your own knowledge and research onto an audience and teach them something new or interesting. And these tips have hopefully demonstrated that actually, the process can both enjoyable and easy.