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Dec 5 / B/R Quality Control Team

Diction: Are your words clear, correct and effective?

Part 12 of Playbook: The Basics of Writing for Bleacher ReportClick here for more information and to download all of Playbook for free.

Diction refers to your choice of words and how you arrange them. Are they clear, correct and effective?

This is one of those areas where a human being can make better judgments than an objective system that looks for specific errors. But such a system can do some of the basic work of identifying people who need to improve certain aspects of their writing.

For starters, we’re on the lookout for excessive length. Obviously, there are exceptions, longer pieces that are assigned by or agreed upon with your editor, but as a rule of thumb, Bleacher Report standard articles should be under 1,200 words, and slideshows should average under 250 words per slide.

Bleacher Report puts a premium on brevity not just for its own sake, but because good writing—and especially good Internet writing—is that which communicates its message in the clearest and most concise language. It’s worth the effort to keep it short. And it really is an effort: You may have heard the story about philosopher Blaise Pascal closing a letter by saying, “I would have written a shorter letter, but I did not have the time.”

Evaluators are also on the lookout for three types of diction error:

Subject/predicate repetition: The non-rhetorical use of identical subjects and/or predicates in consecutive sentences. Example: “The Giants are the team to beat in the NFC East. With a stout defense and quality quarterback in Eli Manning, the Giants will be tough for any opponent to handle.”

Flagrant word repetition: The non-rhetorical use of any particular word two or more times in a single sentence, or three or more times in a single paragraph. Repetitions of articles or prepositions are not counted as flagrant word repetitions.

Clichés: Bleacher Report has a “blacklist” of 20 clichés. They’re listed here. They include such chestnuts as “Do or die,” “Are you ready for some [something]?” and “When push comes to shove.”

The hunt for clichés is a good example of what an objective evaluation system can and can’t do.

Almost every cliché begins life as a clever turn of phrase, and it takes a perceptive, human editor to spot that sometimes-subtle transformation and identify every one of those witticisms that has soured from overuse.

So yes, you can use a cliché that’s not on our blacklist and, for the purpose of this evaluation, “get away with it.” But if you’re a writer who uses clichés, there’s a decent chance you’ll use one of those on the blacklist, which are there because they’re so popular. If you do that, we’ll notice, and we’ll want to talk to you about clichés.

The system won’t “catch” every cliché user and eliminate all hackneyed phrases. Nor will it catch every word or subject/predicate repetition. But it can help a lot of people become more conscious of their word choices, and that would be a small part of making them better writers.

Next post: Authorial Voice
Previous post: Sentence and Paragraph Structure

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Playbook: The Basics of Writing for Bleacher Report Writers is an 18-part series outlining the metrics and criteria of B/R’s objective Writer Evaluation system. The system complements the subjective assessments made by members of our Editorial Team, which means that a solid evaluation is a necessary but not sufficient condition of success with B/R. You can find more information and download the full Playbook for free at this link

Playbook Table of Contents:

Three story types
News Report Story Angle
News Report Narrative Structure, Information Aggregation
Argumentative Articles: Thesis, Rhetorical Structure, Factual Evidence
Ranked Lists: Ranking Logic
Ranked Lists: Topic, List Composition
Attribution and Hyperlinks
Textual Correctness
Sentence and Paragraph Structure
Authorial Voice
B/R Style and Formatting
Multimedia Assets
Common Mistakes: General
Common Mistakes: Three Article Types