Shorter Is Better For Urgency!

by Ann S. Utterback, Ph.D. on December 1, 2015

FOX reportersOne of the biggest killers of a breaking news story or a short voiceover script is compound, complex sentences. I was reading through Hilda B. Fisher’s book, Improving Voice & Articulation (yes, I do read voice books for fun), and I was struck by this phrase:

“The shorter your phrases, the more emphatic your speech will be.”

Why should you avoid long sentences in your copy? Basically, we just don’t use many of those in conversation. This is especially true of urgent conversation such as when you call your friend or significant other after a fender bender. You don’t say:

“After rear-ending a red Toyota that was stopped in front of me, I got out and gave my information to the driver I hit, before calling you to find out what you feel I should do.”

You’d more than likely say:

 “I rear-ended somebody. I got their info. What else do I need to do?”

We do this instinctively when speaking, but when it comes to writing copy, we often forget. I’ve seen sentences in news copy that were half a page long! No one, not even the best broadcaster or voiceover artist you can think of, could read a sentence that long in a conversational way.

According to Fisher, “As you speak you present to the mind of the listener units of thought like packaged ideas. The listener assimilates these thought units and accumulates them to compose larger concepts.”

It’s not our job when writing to accumulate them for the listener into long sentences. This is especially true when you are reading something (or doing a live shot) about an urgent issue.

To practice writing in a shorter, more emphatic way, take a story from a print source (newspaper or magazine), and rewrite it in shorter sentences. Record it both ways, and see for yourself what the shorter sentences can do. My guess is you’ll find yourself sounding more conversational and emphatic, which is just what you need in those urgent stories.

And there are two chapters in my ebook, BROADCAST VOICE HANDBOOK, about how to sound more conversational in front of a microphone.  You can download the book instantly by clicking here to get to my website.

For more tips on broadcast writing, check out this post by acclaimed writing coach, Merv Block.

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