BBC News – Lesson 3: Writing news
LESSON 3: WRITING NEWS
This lesson, the third in a series of six, explains the art of writing clearly, concisely and correctly.
We also have a pick and mix section where teachers can pick out resources to create bespoke lessons for their pupils.
And the special Teacher Essentials section includes lots of extra information and advanced resources.
Please note: this lesson is designed to run for an hour, but all timings (except for video durations) are approximate and can be expanded or reduced if necessary.
- To develop an understanding of the three C’s of news writing: Clear, Concise, Correct
- To understand the structure of a news story
OVERVIEW AND RESOURCES
1 – Video – Writing news – 2 mins 30 secs (+ 2-3 mins to recap/discuss)
Resources required: Internet access
2 – Activity – Writing concisely – 15 mins
Resources required: Internet access or newspapers/school newsletters; writing materials
3 – Video – Scriptwriting masterclass – 3 mins 30 secs (+ 2-3 mins to recap/discuss)
Resources required: Internet access
4 – Activity – Scripting a story – 30 mins
Resources required: Printable worksheet; writing materials
5 – Quiz – Gathering news – 10 mins
Resources required: Internet access or printable worksheet/answer sheet
Video: Writing news (2 mins 30 secs video + 2-3 mins to recap/discuss)
Writing news (duration: 2 mins 30 secs
BBC newsreader Huw Edwards explains the 3 C’s of news writing: being Clear, Concise and Correct.
Writing scripts and news stories also means understanding that you need to get straight to the point!
There’s no point in having an amazing news story but leaving the most important fact to the last sentence!
You can recap the key points from the video with this accompanying worksheet, or read a transcript of the video:
A Welsh language version of the video is also available, together with a transcript.
Activity: Writing concisely (15 mins)
This activity will help you develop your own concise news writing style by replicating what BBC journalists have to do every day.
Journalists writing for the BBC News or BBC Sport websites have to be able to write very concisely because most of their stories also appear on the Ceefax and Red Button text services, which are usually just four paragraphs long.
This is the same story on the BBC Sport website and the Red Button – but the Red Button text service has only four paragraphs to tell the story, while the website goes on to expand on its report
So the stories have to sum up all the important facts – the five W’s and How – in four paragraphs (before expanding on them for the websites). That means every word counts.
Find a current story that interests you in a newspaper or think of a famous historical incident.
Now try to tell the story in four paragraphs, which in BBC Red Button terms equates to about 80 words.
What kind of information do you have to cut out? What do you notice about the language you use? How many of the 5 W’s did you manage to cover?
Video: Scriptwriting masterclass (3 mins 30 secs video + 4-5 mins to recap/discuss)
School Report’s scriptwriting masterclass (duration: 3 mins 30 secs)
For BBC Breakfast reporter Tim Muffett, writing engaging and informative scripts is part of his job.
Watch his video in which he gives his hints and tips on scriptwriting for video or audio reports.
There is a real art to writing a good script and a lot of the time less is more: if you have great pictures, let them speak for themselves rather telling viewers what they can already see.
But things are obviously a bit different for radio – then you need to be a bit more descriptive.
You can recap the key points from the video using the accompanying worksheet or read a transcript of the video:
Watch Tim Muffett’s final report (duration: 3 mins)
Tim’s report went out on BBC Breakfast, and you can see how he put all his tips into practice to produce the finished article.
And the worksheet below contains the script that he used for his report.
Why not watch the report along with the script to see how it was all put together.
Activity: Scripting a story (30 mins)
Work in pairs.
For this activity, you will need to print out TWO copies of this worksheet, one is for a first draft and the other is for a final draft.
Tell each other about the last thing that interested you so much that you couldn’t wait to tell someone else. That’s what news is about – communicating something of interest.
Between you, decide on a news story you are going to report. It could be either of your stories or it could be something else.
If something else, do some research on the topic, gather the key facts – the 5 W’s.
Now, one of you tell your partner about it, just like you did when you were telling your own piece of news.
The reason for doing this is that news is best communicated as though you were telling a friend. That way, the most interesting information, is naturally what you communicate first.
Having spoken your story out loud, write it down on the worksheet.
This will turn your story into a script, and also enable you to calculate how long it will take a presenter to speak it. Newsreaders read at three words per second.
Remember the 3 Cs when you write your script
Remember to keep your words clear concise and correct:
- Clear: Write how you would say it. Get straight to the point at the beginning.
- Concise: Don’t waffle. Keep your sentences – and the length of your report – short.
- Correct: Get your facts, spelling and grammar right.
You will probably need to rewrite your script, using the second worksheet, which is all good news making practice.
Once you have completed your script, you can add in notes about any quotes, sound effects, stills, graphics etc, on the left-hand side of the worksheet.
If you’ve finished your script, write a cue – that’s the introduction that another presenter gives before they hand to the journalist presenting the report. Remember, the aim is to promote the piece, not to tell the story. So, in your cue, don’t repeat the words that are in the opening sentences of the report.
Quiz: Writing news (10 mins)
Quiz: Writing news
This is your chance to see just how much you know about writing a good news story.
1.) Writing news
Journalists use language that is clear, * and correct.
2.) Writing news
Journalists’ language is simple and to the point. Which of the following phrases is the best example?
- Police hit out as demonstrators make point
- Riot police used shields to push demonstrators back
- Demonstrators show their emotions as police get involved in clash
3.) Writing news
Which of the following will help make your report more interesting?
- Made-up facts
- Quotes from key interviewees
- Exclamation marks!!!
4.) Writing news
Which of these is most likely to annoy readers?
- Big chunks of text
- Inaccurate spelling and grammar
5.) Writing scripts
After you’ve written your script, what’s the first thing you should do?
- Give it straight to the editor
- Read it aloud to make sure it sounds okay
- Move on to the next story
6.) Writing headlines
What is the golden rule for writing headlines?
- Be as clever as possible
- Keep it short and bright
- Never let the facts get in the way of a good story
- The answer is concise, which means short. When you’re writing the news, it’s important to keep your sentences short, so that people can understand what you are trying to tell them. It’s also important that your report is not too long, otherwise people will switch off.
- Riot police used shields to push demonstrators back is the most clear because it simple and straightforward. No word is wasted. The other examples are vague and unclear.
- Quotations will add interest to your report. A quote is a great way to add some colour. Listen out for interesting or amusing quotes when you are interviewing people.
- Inaccurate spelling and grammar is most likely to annoy people, so double check before you publish. But long chunks of text and jargon are also irritating!
- The first thing you should do is to read it aloud to make sure it sounds OK. It may feel a little weird to read something you’ve written out loud, especially when the people around you are quiet. But journalists who write for radio and TV are always told to read their scripts aloud to make sure there are no tongue twisters in it!
- A headline should be short and simple. It should grab people’s attention but mustn’t mislead them. Be clear and tell readers what the story is about.
0 – 1 : Keep working at it
2 – 4 : Good but could be better
5 – 6 : Well done!
NOTE FOR TEACHERS
The online quiz gives you the answers at the end of every question. If you are using the quiz worksheet, the answers can be found here:
This multiple-choice quiz is designed to test your knowledge of how to write scripts and stories.
It also provides real-life scenarios to prompt discussions about the issues that can arise during writing news.
Pupils can take the above quiz online, either on this page or on a separate page which is easier to email and distribute at school; a low-tech alternative would be to print out this worksheet:
This lesson has been approved by the BBC College of Journalism.