for a strong, fast pick-me-up
I just heard this on a major TV news bulletin.
Can you see what’s wrong with it?
Brisbane residents could be using a zip line to get from Kangaroo Point to the CBD within five years.
That’s right – it sounds as if the residents will get to the CBD within 5 years. A bloody slow zip line!
The problem is: the words within five years are “misplaced”. You need to put those words close to words they are meant to modify.
This wording is more precise:
Within five years Brisbane residents could be using a zip line to get from Kangaroo Point to the CBD.
I understand that to hook the attention of viewers, the writer would want to start a sentence with Brisbane residents.
In that case – save the within five years words for a separate sentence.
When I train writers at news organisations how to improve their writing I often get this reaction:
The audience won’t know the difference OR
The audience will know what we mean !
Maybe so – but it’s better to develop good writing habits – such as putting “time” words close to what is supposed to happen in or at that time.
Here’s another news clanger that I remember stumped the experienced newsreader. He paused briefly during the sentence and you could almost see him thinking: “that’s not right” – and it was all due to misplaced timing words.
The story was about an Australian mother who was arrested and charged with stealing a bar mat (if I recall correctly).
The young daughters of a woman arrested in Thailand today made a public and very courageous appeal for help.
The newsreader read the sentence so it sounded as if the woman was arrested TODAY. That’s when he looked as if he was thinking: She was arrested a week ago – not TODAY. It was the daughters’ appeal for help that happened TODAY.
So here’s how to avoid such mistakes.
You should always re-read your scripts.
1. Look for any Time words – such as today or within five years.
2. Place the time words close to what happened today or what happens within five years.
You could also use very obvious punctuation so the newsreader knows where to pause so the meaning is clear and it doesn’t sound as if the woman was arrested in Thailand today.
The young daughters of a woman arrested in Thailand – today made a public and very courageous appeal for help.
You could use a comma –
The young daughters of a woman arrested in Thailand, today made a public and very courageous appeal for help.
The comma can work well for print – but I was taught with broadcast writing to be more obvious with showing pauses and word emphasis.
I remember being taught by a crusty old news boss – do not start a news sentence with TODAY.
He encouraged reporters to use an expression such as “this morning” or “this afternoon”.
I know a lot about writing mistakes because as a young reporter I made plenty!
Luckily I had great bosses and colleagues who taught me how to avoid mistakes. I try to pass on those tips as a caremudgeon – a news veteran who cares about writing and about helping other writers improve their writing.
Here are more writing tips:
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