NEWS WRITING SERIES #4: Rules For Writing News Stories


In the earlier segments of this series, we have examined the following topics:

The Meaning of Journalism

What is a News Story?

Hard News and Soft News (Similarities and Differences)

It’s important to click on the topics above and read these previous segments if you haven’t done so before proceeding to this one.

As we stated in the segment on what a news story is, it is not written like a regular story. There are professional requirements for writing such a story. This article, therefore, deals with rules to bear in mind while writing news stories.


1.Use Simple Language:

News stories are written for everyone who can read, hear or perceive the information in them. They are not meant for those with higher education alone. So, it’s important to make them as comprehensible as possible by avoiding difficult words and expressions, hence the expression, “You do not purchase when you can buy in news writing.”

2.Mostly Use the Active Voice:

The active voice produces shorter and more direct sentences. In addition, it does not hide the subject as the passive voice does because it constructs sentences in the S-V-O (subject-verb-object) format.


Will loves Winnie. (Active voice)
Winnie is loved by Will. (Passive voice)

Prof. Michael Ukonu commended the Curriculum Committee members. (Active voice)
The Curriculum Committee members were commended by Prof. Michael Ukonu. (Passive voice)

The lecturer scolded the students for cheating in their continuous assessment assignments. (Active voice)
The students were scolded by the lecturer for cheating in their continuous assessment assignments. (Passive voice)

However, it may not be proper to use the active voice always. For instance, if the news maker (the prominent person the story is about) is the object, we put him or her first by using the passive voice. Otherwise, we would have buried the news by giving more attention to a less known person.

3.Match the Writing Tone to the Mood of the Story:

The tone in which you write a story must align with the mood or nature of the event or issue covered. Exciting events like sports competitions attract a lively tone but sad events like funerals attract a more subdued tone.

4.Draw Human Interest:

Bring out how the event or issue has affected the people concerned. Has it improved or worsened their lives? In what specific ways has it done so? If possible, quote these people directly so that they state their experiences in their own words.

Note how human interest was included in the stories below:

Failing Online Money Transfers Worsen Hardship From Scarcity Of New Naira Notes

ASUU Strike: Students complain of adverse effects on them, blame FG

5.Avoid Slangs, Clichés and Euphemisms:

Slangs are fashionable expressions understood and used by specific groups. Since they are not comprehensible to everyone, they are not appropriate in a news story (which is meant for all).

Clichés are overused expressions which can bore and irritate readers. Let your writing be fresh and thoughtful, not sound like something carelessly put together.

Euphemisms are expressions used to reduce the harshness or unpleasantness of what is discussed. Since news should be factual and leave no one in doubt as to what happened, euphemisms should be shunned in news writing.

6.Use Quotations Properly:

There are different types of quotations that can be used in writing. Direct quotations contain the speaker’s exact words and must be enclosed in inverted commas to differentiate them from the writer’s own words. Only use direct quotes for significant statements made in a succinct and striking manner.

Indirect quotations contain the summarised or paraphrased version of the speaker’s words. Since the words have been reconstructed by the writer, they do not need to be within inverted commas. Be sure to capture the essence of what the speaker said while rephrasing it, rather than inputting other ideas into their statements.

Partial quotations are those that are not full sentences. These are used when the writer only wants to highlight some particular words or expressions that the speaker used. Those specific words lifted exactly as the speaker said them should be enclosed in quotation marks.

7.Make Proper Attribution to Sources:

The information from sources should be clearly attributed to them and those sources should be properly identified to prevent the suspicion that the reporter made them and the information quoted up. Proper identification requires adding the source’s full name (that is, first name, an initial [if available] and surname); title; designation(occupation), sex and any other demographical details that are relevant to the story like age, race, ethnicity and residence.

8.Write with Vigorous Verbs:

Some verbs are stronger and more specific than others of the same meaning. They, therefore, tell the story better by painting a clearer picture of what happened in your story.

It is also important to vary the verbs used to describe something in order not to sound monotonous. For example, instead of using “said” in all your attributions, you can be more exact by telling us when the source “argued,” “admitted,” “maintained,” or “criticised.” Also, instead of saying a man “beat” his wife throughout a story, you can tell us he “slapped,” “kicked,” “punched” and “pushed” her if he did any or all of these.

Note the vigour and variation in the verbs used in the story below:

FASA Election Cancelled Due to Violence, Irregularities

9.Avoid Undue Use of Technical Language and Foreign Terms:

To ease understanding of your story, only use technical terms when it is absolutely necessary to do so and explain them in parentheses. Do the same for foreign words. News writing is not an avenue for showing off your repertory of jargon and exotic or obscure coinages.

10.Avoid Gush, Puff and Journalese:

Gush refers to unbridled emotion which may result in shrillness. Control yourself while writing news stories no matter how excited or angry the subject makes you.

Puff is extravagant praise that gives the impression the reporter is selling the subject of his story. Such lofty and varnished presentations should be paid for, not passed off as news.

Journalese comprises the stock expressions of journalists, which they routinely use without regard to their appropriateness. For instance, politicians are always said to “blast” one another and sporting teams “battle” for a trophy. Be more authentic and unique in your writing.

11.Be Specific:

Although this rule has been touched in some of the foregoing numbers, it is worth stating on its own. In order to avoid creating confusion, write in a specific, rather than a general manner. Whether you are referring to the “Who,” “When,” “What” or any other news element, be exact in stating it.

For example, with respect to “When,” vague time references give the day and not the date of an event. They also give a general period without stating the specific time an event happened. Contrast “yesterday morning” with “8:30 a.m. on Monday, May 22, 2023”. When you use terms like “today,” “yesterday,” and “tomorrow,” you may create confusion if there is a delay in completing your writing or in publishing the story. Therefore, be exact in stating the time of an event. Do the same with other news elements.

12.Conform to Your Medium’s Style:

There are several reasons the journalist should write in line with style rules.. For instance, style rules give uniformity to the content of each medium and give them a unique appearance. You must, therefore, learn and regularly consult your medium’s Style Guide as you write to ensure you are adhering to its conventions.

For students of the Department of Mass Communication, University of Nigeria, Nsukka (UNN), the rules to follow are in The Record Style Guide, which is available at the footer of the newspaper’s website.

13.Abide by the Ethical Regulations in Journalism:

Like every other profession, journalism has ethical codes for its practitioners to work with. For example, it is unethical to write falsely and indecently. These rules can be violated by using fabricated quotes, doctored images and vulgar language. Constant disregard of ethics causes a journalist and the medium he represents to lose public trust and respect. It can also attract sanctions from professional associations in media practice like the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ).

The article below highlights how press secretaries or media aides in Nigeria, who combine the roles of journalists and public relations officers, often flout ethical guidelines in their dissemination of news.

Disinformation, ethics and reality: Appraisal of the duties and functions of press secretaries in Nigeria.

14.Obey Laws Governing Journalism Practice:

There are laws that journalists are expected to heed while reporting and writing news. Examples include laws on defamation and contempt of court. Disobedience to these laws can attract civil and criminal suits against the reporter and his organisation.


Although these rules seem many, they are interrelated and easy to imbibe. What an aspiring journalist needs is constant practice which makes most of the rules second nature after a while.

This series will continue with guidelines for writing leads as they are the second most important part for drawing the reader into a news story, after the headline. Recall that detailed instruction on the characteristics of a headline and how to write it effectively were provided in the second segment of our earlier series on the basics of news reporting and writing. The third segment briefly showed how to write the lead and body of a news story, particularly hard news. Different orders for writing hard and soft news were also discussed in the immediate past segment of this NEWS WRITING SERIES.

Share your reactions and questions in the Comments below.


Ohaja, E. U., Nwankpa, N. N., & Amadin, R. O. (2022). Reporting the parliament: A Nigerian case study. Brazillian Journalism Research (BJR) 18(2), 230-257.

Ohaja, E. U. (2015). Buttressing the need for ethical guidance for online reporting in Nigeria. New Media and Mass Communication, 38, 13-23.

Ohaja, E. U. (2015). The context and the imperative for ethical coverage of local government elections in Nigeria. Research on Humanities and Social Sciences. 5(12). 176-185.

Ohaja, E. U., & Okujeni, R. (2022). Disinformation, ethics and reality: Appraisal of the duties and functions of press secretaries in Nigeria. Journal of Communication and Media Research. 14(1), 80-90.


  • Ezeokoli Nnenna

    This is well understood ma’am
    But however ma’am can you throw more light in passive and active voice
    And is direct and indirect speech also needed in news writing

    • They were very well explained with three illustrations. You can read that section of the post again or research the topics in question further if you wish.


  • Udaya Blessing Ngozi

    Thanks ma’am for always sharing this guidelines with us as it will make our activities in class easier.
    Hearing about writing I get scared but ever since you started teaching our class and introduced us to this site, I have been learning a lot and I will definitely put all this am learning here into practice.

  • Muanya

    This is my second read of this exact series. The instructions are well detailed.

  • Odoabuchi Joy Ngozika

    This is the simplest and detailed lesson so far in this department.

    The referral to UNN Record and back…
    The step by step articulation of teaching in series…

    It is a long read,but easy to understand.
    Thank you,ma.
    God bless you.

  • Monday Favour Nnanke

    Thanks for this ma
    Though I am anxious of writing, this headstart makes me feel I can do it.
    It is detailed and the examples made it more advanced.

  • Ojuanu Chidiebele

    I really love your liberality and sell selflessness in ensuring that others benefit from what you know 💕💕. God bless you, ma!

  • Gbatalibe uchenna Mildred

    Good day ma , thanks for the post I will always try to put them in place when writing a news story, even though the writers we have now do not abide by those rules. Thanks once again.

  • Obadike Praise Chiamaka

    Hmmm, Interesting! I just learnt why time specificity is necessary in news writing.
    Meanwhile, drawing human interest is also very essential when writing news.
    Lastly on the post, I didn’t know euphemism is not supported when writing news. Now I know….Thank you Aunty Edith!😊

  • Nwabuisi chinonso peace

    Thank you for these guidelines ma. I learnt a lot of new words like gush and puff. If I encounter them next time at least now I know what they mean. These guidelines are going to be useful to a lot of students like me who are aspiring to work in the journalism profession or even write news stories for the press. Thank you for this ma.❤❤

  • Nnamani Chidibere John

    Thank you, Ma, for providing these insightful guidelines for creating news stories. As an aspiring journalist, I found the article to be very useful and interesting. I’ll definitely keep these lessons in mind as I continue to hone my writing skills and pursue a career in news reporting.

  • Ezeanya Immaculate Amauche

    These rules differentiate journalistic writing from other forms of writing.
    These rules are very important if we must make progress in this field of journalism. Ma, thank you for making them clear to us.
    I just learnt about Gush, Puff and Journalese and I’m happy I did.

  • Nwabuisi chinonso peace

    Thank you for these guidelines ma. I learnt a lot of new words like gush and puff. If I encounter them next time at least now I know what they mean. These guidelines are going to be useful to a lot of students like me who are aspiring to work in the journalism profession or even write news stories for the press. Thank you for this ma.

  • Thank you, Ma, for these guidelines on news writing. Very helpful for we the upcoming journalists and news reporters.

  • Okoewa favour

    Thank you ma for this self-explanatory post, written understandably.

  • I must confess that news stories are not easyto write having seen all this rules for writing it. In fact as a journalist one must learn how to write and not just writing alone but writing for everyone both for those who can read and even those who cannot read but only hear or perceive the information. Anyways, as far as others were able to do it, I believe I will be able to do it as well. Thanks so much ma for this wonderful piece.

  • Thomas Ebimoboere praise

    The most interesting part of this post is that all vital informations are well explained with good examples that made it very simple for me to understand,Thank you ma.

  • Eneje chidimma ekene

    The text outlined essential guidelines for writing and journalism ethics. It emphasizes the importance of avoiding slangs, cliches, and using quote correctly. The consistent practice can help aspiring journalists internalize these rules And improve their news writing skills. It’s set as a guidelines for writing effective news lead. I learnt alot from this passage.

  • Chijioke Victoria

    Thanks ma for this information and guidelines as it makes it easier for use to comprehend better

  • Madu favour

    Thank you ma for this wonderful and insightful article. It was very engaging and easy to comprehend. These rules are very important to anyone who writes a news story.

    I look forward to implementing what i have learnt today.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.