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Dec 2 / Joel Cordes

Internship Insider: Tone, variety and specific headlines

Here are some highlights from last week’s mailbag at the Bleacher Report Sports Writing Internship program. Since last Friday was Thanksgiving weekend, the Internship Insider ran on Monday instead.

Why am I supposed to avoid “I think” statements?

It’s certainly appropriate to be upfront with your readers if you want to relate with them on a fan level. That said, be careful of setting up an “I feel” mentality in your tone. Most of the time, it’s unnecessary—you wrote the article, so it’s obvious we’re reading your thoughts/opinions.

As Elmore Leonard pointed out, get to the point. Usually you’ll find the result is stronger than your original idea: “I love Griffin and I think he is a huge asset to this team …” vs. “Griffin is a huge asset to this team”.

- Overdoing introductory clauses might be bad, but I find that the article flows better with them. How can I make my writing more enjoyable while eliminating those phrases?

It’s not an either/or proposition, but rather a both/and sort of thing. Introductory clauses are certainly fine and welcome as a way to change up your sentence delivery. Too many of them (like anything) becomes monotonous.

Your best bet is to keep working for a better mix. Though he was speaking more about content, Henry Abbott’s “don’t be weird” advice applies here too. Independent clauses are probably going to be your baseline sentence (i.e. use them a little bit more often), whereas introductory clauses could be used every now and again to spice things up.

- I was pushing toward a deadline and ultimately decided to focus more on content than polish. If in a position where you have to sacrifice either some content or some polish, which would you choose?

Attempt whatever you can do well. When time is an issue, a list might be a little shorter and your analysis more concise (not shallow), but make sure that it’s something you can present professionally. Remember that editing can be done after publication too. So, if you have to publish by a certain time, do the best that you can, THEN go back and fine-tooth-comb it after you’ve hit your deadline.

Don’t Forget:

- Vague headlines don’t attract readers because they fail to advertise the product to search-engine users. People won’t commit and click on your article if they don’t know what they’re getting into.

Vague headline: “NFL Predictions: 10 Reasons This Is the Year for the Dallas Cowboys”
Specific headline: “NFL Predictions: 10 Reasons the Dallas Cowboys Will Win the Super Bowl”

- If you start an article with a time-oriented phrase like “Last night,” your piece is already out of date. Web readers don’t want to read about something that already happened. They probably watched it—they know what happened last night. Web readers are more interested in what’s next.

Joel C. 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.

  • DerekPadula

    These are helpful tips. Thanks!