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URN News Digest Vol No. 005: Common News Writing Errors to Avoid

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It’s another week again to review our stories and dig out the words that are misused, abused and overused. As an editor, I don’t want to spend 30 minutes or even hold onto the story for a day just to give it a good clean up and polish.

What do the words affect and effect have in common? Well perhaps they sound the same but they mean two different things altogether. I must say that any proficient editor would get bent out of shape over a few misused words in a story.

Just a few of the statements picked randomly from the stories filed this week.

• “The group was compromised of five people”, a group is comprised of …
• “Don’t wait for disasters to swing into action” disasters occur they are not live human beings and we don’t expect them to swing into action. …
• “He refuted claims that he was involved in the robbery…” to refute does not mean to deny, but rather to prove that you didn’t do something with evidence. So in the next line I would expect documentary evidence.

I have alluded to the Writing and Editing Committee of the Associated Press Managing Editors Association which prepared a list of common news writing errors. The list has been edited and condensed for this article.

Affect, effect: Generally, affect is the verb; effect is the noun. „The letter did not affect the outcome.
„The letter had significant effect, But effect is also a verb meaning to bring about. Thus: „It is almost impossible to effect change.

Afterward, afterwards: Use afterward. The same rule applies to toward and towards, backward and backwards, and forward and forwards. Use toward, backward and forward.

Allude, elude: Allude means to mention; elude means to escape.

Annual: Do not use „first with it. If it’s the first time, it cannot be annual.
Averse, adverse: Averse means to oppose; adverse means unfavorable.

Compose, comprise: The parts compose the whole; the whole comprises (or contains) the parts.

Cop: It is often a derogatory term for police officer so unless in the headlines, the word cop ought not be used in the main body of the story.

Demolish, destroy: They both mean to do away with completely. Totally or completely destroyed is redundant.
Drown: Do not write someone was drowned unless an assailant held the victims head under water. Just write the victim drowned.

Due to, Owing to, Because of: it is ideal to use the last;
• Wrong: the football match was cancelled due to rain.
• Right: the football match was cancelled because of rain.

Entitled, titled: Entitled means to have a right to do something; titled means to have a title.

Funeral service: this is A redundancy because a funeral is a service so just write “ a funeral was held.

Imply, infer: The speaker implies; the hearer infers.

Kids: kids are offspings of goats just like babies are offspings of human beings. Avoid using it as a synonym for children unless the story dictates a less formal usage.

Lay, lie: Lay is a transitive verb meaning to put or to place; lie is an intransitive verb meaning to be in a reclining position.
• WRONG: The body will lay in state until Wednesday.
• RIGHT: The body will lie in state until Wednesday.
• RIGHT: The prosecutor tried to lay the blame on him.

Less, fewer: If you can separate items in the quantities being compared, use fewer. If not, use less.

Over, more than: Over refers to spatial relationships: The plane flew over the city. More than is used with figures: More than 1,000 fans were in the crowd. So avoid using over 10 people were killed in an accident.

Peddle, pedal: When selling something, you peddle it. Pedal is something you do to a bicycle.

Principle, principal: A guiding rule or basic truth is a principle. The first, dominant or leading thing is principal.

Refute: The word connotes success in argument and must be backed with evidence to prove an argument.

Reluctant, reticent: If someone does not want to act, that person is reluctant. If someone does not want to speak, that person is reticent.

Temperatures: They may get higher or lower, but they do not get warmer or colder.

Quote of the week
“The smarter the journalists are, the better off society is. To a degree, people read the press to inform themselves and the better the teacher, the better the student body”.

Comments and all forms of feedback welcome.

National Perspective Vol. 006: Is it Malnutrition or Hidden Hunger in Uganda? (audio 30mins)
National Perspective Vol. 006: Is it Malnutrition or Hidden Hunger in Uganda? (program summary)


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