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Oct 14 / Joel Cordes

Internship Insider: Word counts, numbering & sentence starters

Here are some highlights from this week’s mailbag at the Bleacher Report Sports Writing Internship program.

Based on looking at other slideshows on the site, I think I’m being too wordy. If there is a word count, what is it?  How can I cut the fat?

There is no word count enforced for any article or slideshow on B/R. Writers and editors are encouraged to create short paragraphs and short sentences wherever possible.  Anything we can do to trim excess verbiage will improve reader experience on Bleacher Report. Long blocks of text make readers lose interest. Short paragraphs keep them engaged.

If a sentence makes a particularly important point within the article (or can be modified to do so), set it off as its own paragraph. Remember, most Internet readers read very quickly. To catch and hold their attention, it’s important to create visual and rhetorical breaks (e.g. paragraph breaks and single-sentence anchor paragraphs) within the course of the text. Prose style matters because you’re writing for an audience, not for yourself. Keeping that audience happy is the best way to get your point across.

If I’m assigned an article with the header NFL Picks Week 5: (insert name) and 4 Teams Who Will Win, does that denote five total teams or four?

“Detroit Lions and Top 4 Teams Who Will Win” means that we’re talking about 4 total teams, including Detroit.  It seems somewhat illogical at first, but also comes off more clearly to readers: “I have a list of total teams, which includes this team in the headline.”


Don’t Forget:

- Your headline, lede and introduction might be the other biggest factors of a successful article.  The headline and its keywords are how your article will be found (a majority of your reads will come from Search Engines, rather than B/R site placement), the lede will determine whether someone sees EXACTLY what your article is about and clicks on it to begin with, and the Introduction will decide whether they stay for the whole thing or not.

Avoid backing into your article with vague or clichéd phrases that could have been written at some previous time. If your lede is something like, “Baseball season is only a few weeks away …” or “It’s been a crazy start to the 2011 NFL season…” then you aren’t being specific enough. You haven’t identified what you’re actually writing about today.

- Journalism conventions—especially in column writing—hold that it’s OK to begin a sentence with a coordinating conjunction. Overall, the idea in column writing is to establish a better sense of pacing while also mirroring how you’d say it if you were talking out loud. In a column, if you wouldn’t say “however” in speech, it’s OK to employ “but”—even to begin a sentence if it means better pacing.

I generally prefer the “comma plus ‘though’” approach: “Against Alabama, though, they combined for a whopping eight yards on the ground.”  “Though” can function like “however,” but saves two syllables and sounds less formal while providing opportunities for useful pauses of effect. - Tim Coughlin (B/R Copy Editing Coordinator)

Joel Cordes is Bleacher Report’s Internship Program Feedback Editor. Each week (along with contributor Greg Pearl) he includes some hints, tips and answers in an email to those participating in the B/R Sports Writing Internship, the highlights of which are shared with the B/R Blog.