This is my writing guide. It used to live in my Google Keep but I’ve decided to make my style guide public for the moment because I’m interested in seeing how much transparency I can give you into my editorial process before someone abuses it and causes me to make it private.
I will update and change this guide constantly. These are not rules. They are my personal notes. I am not interested in feedback on this document or my application of this document to my videos. I’m trying to do something uniquely transparent that TV networks haven’t tried before. Don’t make me regret it.
My overarching goal
Middle schoolers with learning disabilities with zero knowledge of government or politicians should be able to understand my scripts.
The golden rule
Be blunt, clear, and brief.
Phrases I pay attention to
- “Moments ago” = within the past hour, I will rarely stretch this to two hours if the event is semi-ongoing.
- “Happening now” = event is in progress, things could still happen and I will continue to monitor
- “Climate emergency” not “global warming” or “climate change”
- Use “a cop shot someone” instead of “police involved shooting” whenever possible. It’s not always possible.
- Use “mass shooting” when a minimum of five people are shot
- Euphemisms (unless they’re funny)
- “Breaking news”
- “Put to death” = just use “killed”
- “Stipend(s)” = just use “pay”
- “TANF/section 8/SNAP recipients” or “socioeconomically disadvantaged” = just use “poor people”
- “Sewage” = just use “shit and piss”
- Prefer monosyllabic words over multisyllabic words and prefer words with fewer syllables over more syllables.
- Don’t use anyone’s name. Victims of crime should just be identified by their age or race, depending on relevancy. The only exception: POTUS and VPOTUS are “first name last name” on first reference, last name only on second reference.
- Don’t use anyone’s title. Instead of saying “Outgoing Secretary of Agriculture,” use “the guy Trump put in charge of food.” Don’t use POTUS/VPOTUS titles unless both during transition period and necessary for clarity.
- Avoid using organizational names, instead state the relevancy of the organization to the story.
- One sentence, one subject, one thought. Chop sentences in half whenever possible.
- Avoid passive verbs when possible, allow only when needed for clarity, speed, or emphasis.
- Don’t attribute factual reporting from other news outlets. Do what the NYT does and just state it as fact.
Avoiding prerequisite or specialized knowledge
- Department of Justice = FBI (if accurate)
- IRS = tax police, money police, or tax collectors
- Union = “people grouped together to improve working conditions”
- Attribute a government’s actions to a leader when that leader or policies that leader has personally set can reasonably be assumed are involved
- Attribute a government agent’s actions to a leader when that leader is reasonably assumed to be involved