STRUCTURE OF BROADCAST COPY
LEARNING OBJECTIVE: Recognize the structure of broadcast copy.
Broadcast writing, like other styles of writing, can only be learned through experience. Consequently, writing experience can only be gained by writing, writing and more writing.
Figure 13-1. - Using numbers in broadcast copy.
That is not to say there is nothing you can do in a complicated issue or concept into shorter and simpler terms is required of a good broadcast writer. As an aspiring broadcast writer, you should study, carefully, examples of good broadcast writing. In addition, as you begin to write, remember the principles and techniques covered on the following pages.
Writing for the ear can be tricky business. Reducing meantime. To the contrary, there is plenty you can do to prepare yourself for success in this challenging field. The most successful broadcast writers write the way people talk in their daily conversations. They write as if they were telling the story to a friend. As an experiment, start noticing the lengths of sentences used in normal 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 clarity.
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:
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 bad.
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 announcer's 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.