Think Like a Journalist, Write Like an Editor: Tips from the Pros

Ernest Hemingway famously said, ‘All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.’ For George Orwell, ‘Good prose should be transparent, like a window-pane.’ In this special guest post, Justin Osborne offers some top tips for writers drawn from the wisdom of the great and the good of the world of letters.

Writing is not always a skill that comes naturally to people. While it can be a struggle for some people more than others, there are a few standard techniques everyone can use to create engaging pieces. These methods, directly from expert journalists and editors, are designed to help both seasoned writers and everyday people create the best writings possible.

Know Your Audience

Just as you have your own voice when you speak, the content you write has its own style that you have developed over time. Typically, you’re accustomed to using informal language with family and friends, while you might sound more professional with coworkers, managers, and other high-powered leaders. Journalists and editors alike understand the importance of writing in a way that is catered to your audience. Before you begin to write, honestly consider to whom you are speaking and the voice you would like to use.

Include the 5 W’s: Who, What, When, Where, and Why

While journalists are predominantly known for using the five w’s in their writing, this method is good for anyone with a written message. Establish who you are talking about, what event is happening, when this event occurred, where it took place, and why this information is relevant to readers. You may not have to use all five w’s in every single writing scenario, but they are a helpful guide for defining the most vital information. If nothing else, you should explain why your writing piece is significant. Give your audience a reason for reading, and include important information that piques their interest.

Use the Inverted Pyramid

Although journalists are known for this type of format in their articles, the inverted pyramid is a staple for anyone who wants to reach a large audience with writing. The inverted pyramid is essentially a structured format that describes information in order of importance. It begins with the most critical information first (the five w’s—who, what, when, where, and why), then supportive details, and background information at the bottom. From a logical standpoint, this technique works because it gives readers what they need to know immediately. If you’re having a hard time hooking your audience into a compelling story, the inverted pyramid could be your ticket to more views.

Remember Your Core Story

Fact-based information and logic can only get you so far with your audience. You can give a whole pile of facts and information to your audience, but that can get boring very quickly. Whatever content you’re trying to write—from advertising to a simple letter—your mission is to tell your story. Readers do not connect with facts; they connect with information they can relate to. Therefore, your job as the writer is to guide them in the direction of your core message. In the end, your “angle”, or story, is what will keep readers there beyond the hook.

Be clear and concise

No one likes an ambiguous writer—except for fictional stories, perhaps. Journalists strive to offer information through language that most people can easily comprehend. If the information cannot be explained simply, you will lose at least half of your audience. In this case, clarity is essential. Editors particularly appreciate when writers can give succinct information. Make sure to use enough language to accurately depict your topic, but avoid overkill with descriptive language and unnecessary idiomatic phrases. If you can remove a few words from the sentence and still understand the point, or even understand it better, then you know it wasn’t meant to be there in the first place.

Avoid Run-On Sentences and Paragraphs

Every sentence has a purpose, so you don’t need to cram a bunch of information into it. Dragging on sentences can be exhausting for a writer—just imagine how the reader feels! Not only can you lose much of your audience this way, but you also appear to be quite amateur. Try to give explanations without long, descriptive details. Chop up your sentences if one looks too overwhelming. Again, this goes back to our editors’ advice of being concise. When in doubt, turn to professional editing services for assistance.

The same concept goes for paragraphs, as well. If you write content online, it is imperative to break up your information into smaller chunks so that it’s easy on the eyes. Place yourself in your audience’s shoes: would you rather read this text as one entire block, or do you like viewing paragraphs composed of only a few sentences? Most readers agree that shorter paragraphs are the better option. They allow readers to experience less mental strain, which is ideal for writings of longer form.

Key Takeaways

Both journalists and editors have points to offer in terms of writing for any occasion. When you think like a journalist, you create a layout for the information before you write. With the right amount of planning, clear details, and a strong storyline, you can take your writing to an entirely different level. This enables you to write like an editor and craft refinement for every piece you write, leaving your audience hooked and coming back for more.

Justin is a teacher  from Leicester, UK. When not teaching his little students and rooting for Leicester FC, he loves to share his thoughts and opinions about education, writing and blogging with other people on different blogs and forums. Follow Justin on Facebook and Twitter.


  1. Very useful, thank you for sharing!

  2. I think it might be possible to write uncreatively and some journalism is just a presentation of the facts. To me this is on a different level from novel writing which needs writing ability and inspiration. Writing ability can be taught but inspiration is a gift. I can learn to play the piano but may never compose anything worth listening to. I might even become a virtuoso but never a Mozart. I wonder how many of today’s novels will stand the test of time? Let me add I have no higher education and even find punctuation a struggle.

  3. Bravo! Nicely said.