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Tightening for clarity


Journalistic writing is much more tightly written than writing most students have done before. It’s written for an audience that doesn’t have much time and wants information quickly and understandably. Something that you can write in three words is usually better than something taking seven. This can be hard for students if they have consciously or unconsciously been padding their writing to reach a specific page or word count.



  • Students will be able to cut the “wasted words” from their writing and that of others.
  • Students will recognize how tightening writing can make it more concise and clear to the reader.


Common Core Standards



Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.


Develop and strengthen writing as needed by planning, revising, editing, rewriting, or trying a new approach, focusing on addressing what is most significant for a specific purpose and audience.


Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English grammar and usage when writing or speaking.



50 minutes



Handout: “Shorter, tighter writing is better,” which includes recommended answers on the second page

See “Active and Passive Voice” and #12 in the Quick Hits lesson plan, both in the editing section of the curriculum guide, if you need to check understanding on that particular problem.

Articles ready to be edited, either by their authors or by others


Lesson step-by-step

1. Provide a bridge – 5 minutes

Discuss the need for journalistic writing — especially news — to be tightly written to save valuable space on the page and time on broadcasts. It also saves readers’ and viewers’ time and allows them to grasp the meaning of the information more quickly. Some tightening are simple words, often ones AP style frowns on. (e.g. “on” before a date is unnecessary — “We met on March 3.” just contains an extra word. “We met March 3 works better.” AP style includes that as a rule. Another unnecessary word is “that.” It is required in constructions like “That is the best ice cream I’ve ever eaten.” But it’s wasted in “He knew that the team would win.” Perform a “that-ectomy” and the sentence is even better. Refresh students’ minds about passive voice, using the slides in the lesson with “Quick Hits” or “Active and Passive Voice.”

2. Activity — 15 minutes

Pass out the first page of the “Shorter, tighter writing is better” worksheet. Tell students to rewrite the sentences by removing unnecessary words or complicated and redundant structures.

3. Class discussion – 10 minutes

Discuss as a class how students tightened and improved the sentences. Ask them what AP style or other suggestions they used to guide their choices. Writing the sentences on the board is a good option.

4. Application — 20 minutes

Using stories ready to be edited at some stage of the production process, have students — either the reporter or another student — look for ways to tighten the draft. Share those suggestions.



Formative assessment

Check for understanding with answers to the worksheet.

Summative assessment

Have students bring in a list of five sentences from articles they have written and rewrite these to tighten them. Save the wordy and improved examples for future editing quizzes.



Even stories that have already run in the paper or on the website work for this activity. Working in pairs can be effective, too.