In case you weren’t listening in CM331/CM707: Top writing tips from Professor Dowding

Writing is an integral part of communication jobs. As the majority of COM students come from an academic writing background, the transition from academic to media writing can be a struggle. 

As a communication professional with more than 25 years of experience, Professor Dowding teaches CM331 Writing for Communication and CM707 Writing for Media Professionals every semester. His class offers some great insights into media writing and its succinct style, providing students with the tools they need to succeed in the communications world. And in case you weren’t listening in his class (we’ve all had those days!), here are his top four writing tips for communication students:

  1. Create a culture of speed and precision

The goal of media writing is to convey the most amount of information in the shortest amount of time with the fewest words and the greatest clarity. 

Renowned journalist Malcolm Gladwell noted in his book that one needs 10,000 hours to master a skill and to reach the level of greatness. Building writing reflexes require constant practice. Unlike riding a bike, which you can technically learn overnight, writing resembles learning how to play a musical instrument: you cultivate your writing skills by practicing over and over again. 

For example, AP style is the foundation of media writing. In order to nail the AP style of writing, you could practice AP style in your daily activities – even when you’re texting your friends or emailing professors, follow AP Style. 

  1. Read, read, and read!

The best writers are the ones who read the most. Reading is the best way to absorb writing styles and to learn how other writers compose their stories. The premise of becoming a skilled writer is to be a voracious reader. 

Professor Dowding recommends these books to communications students: 

Stephen King: On Writing

Mignon Fogarty: Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing

  1. Keep your writing error-free 

Media writing should always persuade the readers. Spelling mistakes, typos, and grammar errors lower readers’ confidence in the work – they will start to doubt the writer’s capability, thinking that the writer doesn’t know what they’re doing. The writing will end up losing its ability to persuade. 

An error-free document is much more convincing and persuasive to the readers than a piece with grammatical mistakes. Make sure to check the spelling and grammar after finishing your article. Typos and grammatical issues are subtle and can be hard to find. But they’re the key factors to persuade your readers. 

  1. Eliminate the use of pedestrian verbs

Pedestrian verbs, according to Professor Dowding, are the boring, drab, ordinary, and overused linking verbs that are supporting big sentences – words such as is, did, get, do, and was. Minimizing the use of these tiny linking verbs is crucial to media writing because pedestrian verbs don’t offer your writing the level of sophistication and readability you want to obtain.

For example:

I got an internship – I secured an internship

I went to a meeting – I attended a meeting

At the same time, your word choice doesn’t need to become a thesaurus. Similar to pedestrian verbs, fancy words will get you nowhere. As a writer, your ultimate goal is to provide an easy reading experience for your readers. The key is to balance your word choice.  

Here are some other dos and don’ts from Professor Dowding

  • Do try to vary the structure of your sentences. Your writing shouldn’t be boring. The secret recipe is to find an appropriate rhythm instead of maintaining a monotonous tone in your article. 
  • Don’t use comma splices – the linkage of two individual sentences connected by a comma (similar to run-on sentences). It makes your writing informal and inexplicit.
  • Don’t use semicolons and exclamation points. They interfere with the writing. Punctuation doesn’t create enthusiasm in your writing, but your word choice does.  

If Professor Dowding could give only one sentence to students, he would say: 

Elevate your verb choices, minimize your reliance on linking verbs, and read more books. 

Yige Greta Tang, Staff Writer

Yige Greta Tang is a second-year public relations graduate student. Prior to joining BU, she graduated from Pennsylvania State University with a bachelor’s degree in public relations and a minor in media studies. Born and raised in Beijing, China, Greta moved to Chicago for high school in 2012. She has always been passionate about writing and is excited to be a writer for The COMmunicator this semester. Outside of the classroom, Greta loves to explore new restaurants and spend time with her dog, Thunder.

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