Details drive the news (new handout)

I have nothing against essays, but not every writing task requires an essay. I tell my students they will be more successful if they produce a narrative personal essay because it’s the right genre for the occasion, not because it’s the only genre they feel comfortable writing. This handout is my latest attempt to help them see important differences between writing essays and reporting the news. Cut the filler. Unnecessary…

Revisiting a Website I Created in 1996: Engineering Writing Centre (University of Toronto)

During the Christmas break of 1996, when I was working on my Ph.D. at the University of Toronto, I asked my boss at the Engineering Writing Center if I could log about 10 hours converting a bunch of paper handouts into hyperlinked web documents. I actually put in about 20 hours, and slapped into shape the first rough version of the website. The oldest archive I can find is from…

Columbia Journalism Review

Sorry, Wrong Number

Numerical errors usually occur for one of these five reasons: A journalist mishears a correct number given to them by a source and fails to double-check it. A source unwittingly provides a mistaken piece of information and the journalist fails to verify it. A source deliberately fudges the numbers and the journalist fails to verify them. A journalist or editor miscalculates a figure. A journalist re-reports a mistake made by…

William Zinsser: What Is Good Writing? (Clarity, Simplicity, Brevity, and Humanity.)

Most of the students in my “News Writing” class don’t want to be journalists, but they all want to make a living from their writing skills. I’m trying to emphasize some of the markers that journalists put into their work, in order to signal that their work is credible. For instance, one saying in journalism is “Get the brand of the beer, the model of the car, and the name…

MS-Word’s helpful “View -> Focus” mode delays stress-related breakdowns.

You won’t usually catch me saying anything nice about Microsoft. (Ok, Flight Simulator was good.) A few days ago when life was a little more stressful than usual, I found myself nearly overwhelmed by what should have been a routine editing task. Then I stumbled across MS-Words’s View->Focus mode, which hides most of the intrusive accretion of menus, buttons, and readouts. After changing the default black background to a nice…