06. Writing for the radio

Radio is a fast, easy media that targets everyone, from highly educated people to less knowledgeable ones. The writing must therefore be short, simple, in present tense... easy to listen to and to memorize.

The first rule is to properly understand what you're writing about. If you fail to do so, you will write badly. Understanding is the key to explaining, and the basis to the informal contract between a journalist and his audience.

Begin with the freshest news

Your audience is tuning into the broadcast to know what’s happening. Each of your scripts must therefore start with the freshest news.

Hook your audience

Not only does the first sentence contain the freshest news, it must also catch the attention of the listener. See that your writing is catchy, particularly at the beginning of each piece of news. If the listener is intrigued, he will keep on listening.

Use the present tense

You have to describe events that only just happened or are currently happening. The present tense is the tense to use : it fits with the treatment of the news.

Write short sentences

News is oftentimes complex. Your listeners can’t rewind, they must understand straight away. Keep your sentences short and simple : subject/verb/object. A sentence can only carry one idea. Avoid subordinate clauses: end the sentence and start a new one instead.

Be precise

Your scripts must be short, every word counts. Choose your words, especially your verbs, wisely.Your scripts must be short: every word counts. Try to avoid “be” and “have”, as they are overly vague.

Stick to the facts, avoid commenting

You are not on air to give out your opinion. Just describe the news and let your listeners make their mind up freely.

Speak before you write

A news bulletin is an oral exercise. The anchor reads out the news. Whisper your script as you write it. If you have trouble reading a word, change it : it might just happen to you again, this time on air. If the result does not please you, rewrite the script.

Speak to your audience

You’re writing your news alone. When talking into the mic, you have no direct contact with the listeners. Still, always try picturing them. Are they going to understand ? Try picturing yourself talking to someone. If you write this way, your audience will feel as though you’re talking to them and will keep on listening.

Describe the news

Radio appeals to the ear. A well-written script creates perfect mental pictures in the mind of the listener. To get this result, use descriptive writing. So as to be sure not to forget anything about a news item, use the 5 Ws. And to describe it, think of the five senses: news get to us through our senses. Let your listeners see, touch, hear, feel and taste the news.