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Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism University of Southern California

Ways To Remedy Your Pathetic Writing Skills

I can't remember how many times I've brutally disagreed with people when they say Chinese is way more complicated than English. As a non-native English speaker, I'm still learning new vocabulary even though I've spent three years in the States. In the past 10 years, I've studied English, French, and Russian. Trust me, English is the most beautiful language on earth, but for writers whose mother languages are not Indo-European, there are just so many pitfalls behind its beauty. By saying "pitfall" I mean tricky grammar, strange language nuances, bewildering idioms, and other endless ways that will make your writing just doesn't sound right. So listen carefully, future MJs and producers who didn't grow up speaking English. Here are some thoughts and tools I use to avoid those embarrassing moments when your EP/professor can do nothing but sigh: "This needs to be rewritten..."

(Zihao Yang/Word Cloud)
(Zihao Yang/Word Cloud)

Q: How do I make my tweets sound native and catchy?

A: Constantly reading. I was graphics producer on Tuesday. It could be a hassle especially when your tweets are not conversational and idiomatic enough. Make sure you follow as many media outlets as possible, and read their tweets. From Buzzfeed to New York Times, there are hundreds of ways of telling the same story. For example, today South Korea puts an end to its adultery law. The Associated Press tweeted "South Korea court abolishes 63-year-old law that says extramarital affairs are illegal," while Los Angeles Times tweeted "In South Korea, married cheaters are no longer law-breakers." See the difference? One sounds pretty formal and the other is conversational, because news organizations have different tones when conveying information. For ATVN, I tend to make our Facebook posts and tweets more accessible to people of our age, so read as much as you can will help you ace it on social media.

Q: I just can't tell any difference among "tell, speak, talk, and say." What should I do?

A: First, you should be ashamed if you cannot tell the difference. But the point is, language nuance is something you can't avoid when writing a story. Sufficient amount of reading will help you improve your writing skills, but when you are not sure about your word choice, don't hesitate to ask your teammates or professor. Also, look up examples on mainstream news orgnizations when you are uncertain about a word or a phrase, and see what descriptions they used to tell a similar story. I usually got "A"s or "A-"s on my academic essays, but when it comes to news writing, my scripts sometimes seem like to be written by some amateur middle schoolers. I think that's because I was trained to write long, formal sentences when I learned English, but TV news writing is a totally different style. What I normally do to improve my news writing skills is to do mini exercises on weekends. Pick several random stories from newspapers and adapt them to TV version. Don't be lazy. Laziness is evil.

Q: How do I copy edit a story if I'm not a native speaker?

A: When MJs come to me asking for writing tips, sometimes I don't even know where to start, honestly speaking. But there are certain things you can always do. First, I would check what facts are included in the script and see if they flow. Always check if an SOT is introduced, make sure an INTRO doesn't give away too much, and judge whether a TAG is necessary. Then, you should go over spelling and punctuactions with MJs because you don't want to make such mistakes. When it comes to style (oh that's my weakest weekness), I'll ask help from Rebecca and sit down together to troubleshoot. Always remember you have a team behind you, and they are always ready to help you out.

Q: What if I'm just feeling upset... ?

A: Don't be upset! Confidence is king! I used to have that bad feeling because I thought I was such a bad writer. I'll never forget when I got a fail alert in my sophomore-year broadcast writing class since my script was so crappy. But through reading and exercising, I finally got an A in that class. In retrospect, I don't even think grades matter that much any more. The point is the process of improving, investing your time and gaining confidence. And I'm still working on building up self-confidence. I really hope this short blog post will help if you are also struggling with writing.


Hello Zihao:
Thanks for sharing these useful and practical tips. Your article is well written (smile).
Connected by the written word,

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