A

About / around

Use "about" not “around” for estimates of time and money

Absolutes

Nothing is “almost unique” or “completely full”. It is either unique or it is not, full or not full. Don’t describe anything as the biggest, fastest, tallest, fattest, etc unless you are sure. Never add “ever” to any of those - the record you say is the “fastest ever” today will be broken tomorrow. Don’t say something is a record unless you are sure.

Accidents

Moving vehicles collide. Avoid apportioning blame - newspapers very rarely say "The Vauxhall Corsa hit the Peugeot 206" unless it has been established in a court or inquest that this is exactly what happened. Just say the two cars collided, crashed etc. A person walking or running across the road might be “hit” by a car, but not “knocked down” as it carries connotations of deliberate injury. It is safest to say pedestrians and cyclists "were involved" in an accident with a car. Note: Police now always use “incident” in place of “accident” – we do not have to follow suit.

Accuracy

Check names, addresses and facts. Check again if in doubt or someone casts doubt on the original information. Be specific not general in your writing - get to the point quickly, with who, what, why, when and where in the first few paragraphs.

Acronyms

E.g. Nato, Mencap, Asbo, Aids, Ofsted. Generally, if you can say it as a word then only put the first letter in upper case.

Addresses

The correct way to write addresses is: Jim Green, of Brown Avenue, Rochester. If you don’t have a street name then it would be Jim Green, from Rochester.

Adjacent

Use next to, nearby or beside.

Adjectives

Can add a good splash of colour to your stories, but avoid clichés like “cold-hearted thieves” or “quick-witted policemen”.

Affect/effect

Affect generally refers to the influence a change has on something else. “The tax cuts affected the council’s ability to pay for services”. Effect is either a verb meaning to cause, create or make a change, or a noun meaning the result of a change. “The Prime Minister effected a change in tax policy” or “The effect of the policy change was that councils received less money”.

Age

New arrivals to our world don't stay babies for longer than 18 months, after which they can be toddlers.

Males are boys until they are 18, when they become men. Females are girls until 18, when they become women. They are all children until they become 12.

Young people aged between 13 and 19 can be called teenagers but beware of making it a derogatory term. Youths are boys and girls from early teens to early 20s.

Put people's ages after their names, bracketed by commas (Joe Smith, 39,).

Aggro

This is slang. A violent argument is a row - one of the few times newspapers will use that word appropriately!

Angry protestors

Of course they are angry, that's why they are protesting!

Anonymity

Avoid anonymous quotes and sources unless there is a compelling reason. If someone requests anonymity, you must respect it.

Approximately

Journalists are often uncomforable with figures, but never more so that when they say "approximately 23 people"... if it was 23, just say so. The same goes for "More than 46 people attended". Was that 47, then?

Axed

Often used in relation to job cuts. Better used in relation to trees.

 

B

Basically...

Your stories should always be clear, so there's no need to start a sentence with this announcement.

Biannual/Biennial

Biannual things happen twice a year. Biennial things happen every two years.

Bankrupt

People go bankrupt, businesses are wound up or go into liquidation.

Blonde

Blonde for a girl, blond for a boy

Boobs

The Sun might use it, but we don't. Same goes for romp.

Book and film titles

Use italics when naming books, films, newspapers or any other publications in your stories, rather than quote marks. E.g. The Times, The Guardian

Bosses

Stories often refer to "bosses" and "chiefs" - better to give titles, as the vagueness can lead readers to question the validity of your source and story.

Boys

Males under 18. See Age.

 

C

Chaos

A cliche generated and perpetuated by the media. Chaos is rarely caused by slight snowfall, no matter what the BBC and Daily Express tell you.

Chiefs

See bosses, above.

Christmas

Is never Xmas, even in headlines.

Clichés

Avoid clichés like the plague. These hackneyed phrases have long outlived their usefulness or originality. Think again. A truly witty phrase will be the one you invent. No slams, raps or probes in text. Be careful about boost, crack-down, anger and fury.

Also, avoid lazy descriptions. Few houses are luxury homes; businessmen are not necessarily wealthy; footballers are not stars if they play in the reserves; neither are little-known film actors, etc

Collective nouns

Do not mix singulars and plurals. Councils, firms, organisations and words like everyone, everybody, someone, nobody, none, each, a group etc are singular. E.g. “The council is considering a plan to ban littering” not “The council are considering a plan to ban littering”.

Exceptions are sports teams, the police, the public, the media, a family, a couple (or a noun which suggests several people, e.g. a trio), and bands in showbiz stories. For example, it would sound silly to say “Kings of Leon is coming to Kent”.

Construct

Say "build" instead.

Cops

Often used by tabloids. You should use "police" in crime stories although it is acceptable to refer to a "cops and robbers drama", if that is what happened.

Crime

Do not identify the address of elderly or vulnerable victims of crime. If they live in a small road with few homes, this may mean omitting the street name (at the editor’s discretion). Be wary of glamorising criminals (as in a “daring raid”).

A burglar trespasses in order to steal. A robber uses violence or threats to steal. A thief just steals. Note the differences, they are three very different offences with different penalties in the courts.

When someone is charged with an indictable offence (one that can be heard by a Crown Court) they will be referred to by their surname without a title, e.g. Bailey instead of Mr Bailey. The title is reinstated as soon as they are found not guilty.

Crisis

Is a moment of tension or decision, which could lead to a change.

 

D

Dates and times

Use the following style: Monday, September 26, 2011. Note: Not 26th of September. To write a range of dates, use Monday to Friday, 26-30 September 2011. Always name the day when using a date. For a range of years (e.g. tax year or football season) use 2010-11.

Use Good Friday, Boxing Day etc as applicable.

Times are in a 12 hour clock, e.g. 7am, 6pm. Use noon or midday and midnight – there is no such thing as 12am and 12pm.

Decimated

Often mistaken for destroyed. It is a form of punishment meted out by the Romans against their enemies. They would be lined up, and every tenth man would be executed. This is unlikely to crop up in a news story...

Devastated

Don't use it to describe minor criminal damage, or how a victim feels after a minor crime.

Dilemma

A choice between two unfavourable courses of action. Not the same as a problem.

Disaster

Don't use it to describe a minor event or incident.

Discrimination

Never use race unless it is relevant to the story (e.g. in a feature on ethnic communities, or a police appeal for witnesses to a crime)

Gay can be used in headlines, but homosexual or lesbian is preferred in text.

Use gipsy or gipsies rather gypsy or gypsies but make sure that is the right ethnic group to use. Not all travellers are gipsies. Travellers is a safer word to use generally.

Disinterested

Means impartial, not the same as uninterested or bored.

Dwelling

Council jargon for a home or house.

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