By Gregg McLachlan

One of the greatest aids to improving your copy is to print out your work
and read it as if you were a reader.
Reading your work aloud is another routine step that helps produce better copy .
So, how often do you include these steps in your daily routine? Sometimes not enough.
Make it a habit today. Breaking habits requires an investment in examining
your copy to make the necessary changes. We can't break habits unless we know
our habits. Here's a sampling of steps that can help you improve your work.
How many habits can you eliminate in one week - and sustain for the long run?
Give it a shot this week:

1. Avoid patterns
Re-read your work from the past week. Look for habits. Maybe it's that you
started multiple leads all in the same way (ie. with the name of someone),
 or that you filed multiple run-on sentences. Or that you started too multiple
paragraphs with a surname. Or that you overused certain words such as the,
that, and etc. It's easy to fall into habits. Don't roboticize your work. Evolve it.

2. Eliminate awkward words
Nobody's asking reporters to dumb down their writing. It's simply a case
of being reader-friendly. Write for your readers, not above them. Look for words
with fewer syllables to replace long-winded words. Look for places where
one word will take the place of two words. Condense. Cut. Tighten.

3. Improve your quotes
Evaluate your quotes. Are they quotes that add colour to your story, or are you
just quoting information that can be paraphrased? Filing quotes such as
"If people want more information, they'll have to contact Bob Smith in
accounting next week" are a disservice to quote marks. Or, if you repeatedly
file quotes that consist of three words (ie. bit quotes) that are not colourful
and add nothing to your story, it's time to work on gathering full quotes
that say something worthwhile.

4. The 'background' paragraph
If you constantly forget to write a background paragraph, you need to make
a note to yourself whenever you write. When you start to write your story,
type BACKGROUND PARAGRAPH HERE in bold and fill in the space
before you file your copy. Don't leave it to editors to fill your holes.
It's your byline. It's your work.

5. The basic stuff
Have you identified people in your story? Get the basics: who they are,
title, age, occupation, home town, etc.

6. Don't fake it
Read other papers to get up to date on current events.
If you're localizing a national story, get the background and understand
it so you're reporting accurately and with proper knowledge of connected events
so you'll properly inform your readers.

7. Their/there, to/too, it's/its
The BIG three in many reporters' copy requires special attention. .
Whenever you use one of these words, develop the habit of checking and rechecking.
Have you got the correct word? Readers love catching these silly errors...
and they let us know about them.

8. Don't rely on just officials
It's easy to get in a routine of talking to just officials.
Don't forget about John Public. That's who's affected. People-cize your stories.

9. Junk the jargon
Beware jargon. Is there really a rule of thumb? Does fur really fly?
Does a puck really bulge the twine? Jargon is like writing in code to readers.
Just tell them in plain English what you mean.

10. The 'What does this mean?' paragraph
Add perspective to your work. It's a simple explanation of the significance of a story.
It can be based on past events, opinions, or it can bring readers up to speed
o they understand new developments or where a story is headed.
Type WHAT DOES THIS MEAN as a reminder in your copy... and then fill it.
 Your readers will be thankful. Report what it means early in your copy.