Writing for radio Resource

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The Crucial First Sentence

“The first sentence in a radio news story is all-important. It must have, partly the character of a headline. It must instantly establish the subject in the listener’s mind, show him or her why the story is worth hearing and signpost the direction it is going to take. But it should not try to say too much”

(BBC Guidelines)

And the Last Sentence

The last line should round off the story and point ahead to any developments. The last words are the ones the audience will remember – so make them memorable without introducing any startling new information.

Does the story tell the listener…

  • What has happened?
  • Where it happened?
  • When it happened?
  • Who was involved?
  • How did it happen?
  • Why did it happen?
  • What (if anything) does it mean?

“Get the story right and the words just write themselves”

  • What’s the top line?
  • Don’t save the best bits for last
  • Show me don’t tell me
  • Never assume

It’s a listening medium …

  • Write as you speak, in simple sentences
  • It doesn’t have to be grammatical
  • Shorten words as we do in speech
  • Test your script as you write
  • Weigh each word – if in doubt, leave out
  • There’s no going back
  • Make it easy on the listener
  • It’s got to be heard... and read
  • Layout the script for clarity
  • Do you understand it?
  • If necessary, re-write to suit your own reading style
  • Mark it up – as you want to say it
  • Practice it aloud
  • Record and learn
  • Use simple tenses where possible
  • It’s a conversation with a listener - not with your colleagues
  • Write brief sentences using the "active" voice
  • Minimize your use of adjectives, adverbs pronouns and lists
  • Full name first, then shorten
  • Don’t overload her or him with too much information
  • Simplify and use round numbers
  • A bracket/quotation mark is hard to hear
  • Don’t use abstractions, repetitions and tongue twisters


In a surprise announcement/ the Chairman of Gulu District Council/ Colonel Walter Ochora/ has said that he wants to be the NRM’s next presidential candidate.//

Speaking to reporters/ at a Uganda Radio Network seminar in Gulu/ the controversial LC5 chairman/ said that making peace in the North/ would be his campaigning priority//

Our correspondent/ Charles Ewoku/ now reports from Gulu//

Marking Up – commonly used signs in Script Reading
/ = Brief pause

// = Longer pause

_ = Emphasis

Improve your writing

How does this sound?

The Kampala taxi drivers strike, which began September 10 (now in its 17th day) and involving 317 members of the Uganda Owners and Drivers’ Association (UTODA) in a dispute about changes in Kampala ’s traffic system shows no sign of resolution, despite warnings by UTODA, to which the majority of Kampala ’s 439 taxi drivers belong, that drivers in other towns could be asked to join the strike in solidarity with their Kampala colleagues.

Or is this better?

The Kampala taxi drivers’ strike could spread to other parts of the country. The strike, now in its third week, is over proposed changes in Kampala ’s traffic system. Now the drivers’ union – UTODA - has warned that drivers in other towns could be called out in solidarity. More than 300 drivers are involved in the current action.

Not everything is as it sounds

1. Sudan said the Eritrean leader had a bad record when it came to upholding human rights.


Sudan, said the Eritrean leader, had a bad record when it came to upholding human rights.


The Eritrean leader said Sudan had a bad record when it came to upholding human rights

2. Because of the fall in interest rates, which has stimulated home buying, house prices are going up again.


House prices are going up again. The fall in the mortgage rate has led to an increase in home-buying.


Commentary – this is how we describe those portions of the script that are written to link the clips. Follow the same basic rules as any writing for radio. In particular:

Commentary should…

  • Summarize what needs summarizing
  • Clarify what needs clarifying
  • Set-up the clip to come (including explaining "atmos" or noise distractions)
  • Link the clip to what is coming next, and sometimes
  • Back-announce (back anno) what the listener has heard

Commentary should not…

  • Describe the process "I went to see so and so and asked her..."
  • Repeat the words of the clip
  • Distract the listener
  • Sound as if it was written without knowing what clips came before or after

Based on Gaber, I. (n.d.) Handbook for the URN Advanced Radio Journalism Course on Political Reporting. Uganda Radio Network (accessed on 8 October 2008 at http://www.iwpr.net/pdf/urn_hbook_01.pdf)