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  • Tony Pritchard 5:39 pm on April 13, 2013 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Adrian Shaughnessy, BBC, Browns, Cargo Collective, CERN, Conversion Courses, Design Council, , Fallon, Flickr, Frost, , Indexhibit, , Intro, , Malcolm Gladwell, Michael Johnson, Norman Potter, Professional Development, Represent UK, Richard Holt, Robert Fripp, Sea Design, Shillington College, Short Courses, , Thomas Edison, Unit Editions, Vimeo   

    How to be Good at Graphic Design 

    This post consists of a series of short written pieces that offer advice on how to improve your graphic design abilities and build your confidence. It is aimed at potential students of design. This article is interspersed with work from graduates of the Design for Visual Communication (DVC) courses at the London College of Communication (LCC). These graduates are from non-design backgrounds and have studied visual communication for one year. The course is focused on developing skills and confidence in graphic design.
    The following three images are taken from Susanna Foppoli’s sketchbook and demonstrate the DVC course concept and research mantra: Document, Experiment, Contextualise and Evaluate.

    0 Susanna Sketchbook 1 0 Susanna Sketchbook 2 0 Susanna Sketchbook 3

    This post is in response to a discussion thread on Richard Holt’s blog. The discussion centred around an advert Shillington College had placed with the copy line: Learn Graphic Design Fast. Shillington College was established by Andrew Shillington in 1989. He was experiencing difficulty in finding graduates who had the attributes he thought would make them employable. He was seeking people with ‘high-end computer skills, a practical knowledge of design theory and [who] could meet challenging deadlines’. A full-time course at Shillington College lasts three months. It should be noted that I am writing this piece from the context of my knowledge of the mature learner, converting career, who has already studied at undergraduate level.
    The publications below are from Valentina Verç, Siobhan Hickey and Philippa Thomas. They are visual summaries of research and development work in a designed form that enables the student to reflect upon their design process and research interests.

    0.1 Valentina Visual Summary 0.1 Siobhan Visual Summary 0.1 Phillippa Visual Summary

    Learn Graphic Design Fast
    Shillington’s claim of ‘Learn Graphic Design Fast’ is certainly a great provocation and one that has designers and design educators hot under the collar. It also plays into the anxieties that twenty or thirty-somethings often have – the last chance saloon or the last roll of the dice. Maybe if you take this course or that course one’s fortunes will change. It’s the dream every aspiring creative person has. We see it on the talent shows. How do you become ‘better’ and get noticed quickly? At its heart there are some good questions. How fast can someone learn anything? What are the essential principles that need to be learnt? What are the learning and teaching methods that can facilitate this? Where best to study and how much will it cost?
    A fundamental skill of graphic design is typography. Typography engages with its form but also attempts to provide text-based information. This exercise is primarily concerned with typographic hierarchy. It uses one typeface with changes of size and weight to gain emphasis for the different parts of the information. These examples are from Linne Jenkin, Peter Carr and Tom Hornby.

    1 Linne Typographi Hierarchy 1 Peter Typographic Hierarchy 1 Tom Typographic Hierarchy

    A Journey Not a Destination
    Design can be defined as a plan or intention before something is produced. In his book ‘What is a Designer’, Norman Potter begins by stating that, ‘every human being is a designer’. Potter elaborates upon this point but it suggests that the potential lies within each of us to communicate visually through design. Potential is the key word – is this a road you want to travel down? For me, design is more a journey than a destination, a process not just an end product. Someone better than I once commented that ‘typography is a lifelong apprenticeship’ – you don’t really ever master it, you pursue it. My design hero, Geoff White, is a good example of someone who has made it a lifelong pursuit and is still grappling with it in his mid-eighties. I do think that the mechanics of typography can be learnt in the first term (approximately three months) on a full-time undergraduate course. Cultural and historical studies should enable you to root yourself in the tradition and continuum of the subject. Learning the software is also very much part of the deal. I believe you can become a functional designer quite quickly though. What is harder is learning design judgement – being critical and selective. You do need the time factor to practice, try things out and experiment. But then be critical. You need to find your attitude as a designer. I think it has to be something you feel and have an emotional connection with. It combines the cerebral with the visceral. It is a lifelong journey and not just three months.
    In order to make an informed choice when selecting a typeface, students on the DVC course undertake a project exploring typeface classifications. These examples are by Sateen Panagiotopoulou and Dorota Zurek.

    2 Sateen Type Classification2 Dorota Type Classification

    Am I Talented?
    Many see design as a talent that is nurtured and not something that is learnt fast. You either have an eye for it or you don’t. The notion of talent is something of an intangible. Talent is described as a natural or innate ability. This might suggest that it is something that can’t be learnt or developed. Universities annually recruit cohorts of students. Despite the selection process it isn’t easy to spot the talent. The person who looks promising in the first year can decline over the next two years. Equally that hopeless case in year one suddenly begins to shine in year three. Who can predict an individual’s trajectory over time? Talent spotting seems a somewhat futile and undesirable activity. Can design be learnt? Yes. Can it be taught? Yes. Is design about the ‘Eureka moment’ or a ‘bolt of lightening’ providing inspiration? No, not always, rarely does inspiration strike out of nowhere. It’s not that random. The design process can be explained and it can be understood. It can therefore be taught and learnt. I have run courses for those converting career or wishing to add design as a complimentary skill to a repertoire of other skills they possess. The desire to learn graphic design might be because it was a first love that lost out under peer or parental pressure when choices were made regarding what subject to study at university. It might have emerged from engaging with design in a related area such as promotions, marketing or information visualisation within employment. Those individuals will have identified their ability and wish to validate and develop that ability through a formal education process.
    The visual language and grammar project looks at basic form in the abstract but also how it is perceived in the visual world around us. These examples are provided by Dorota Zurek and Henrietta Ross.

    3 Dorota Visual Grammar 3 Henrietta Visual Grammar

    Talent and Success
    Many ‘talented’ graduates make the assumption that to be ‘talented’ within your subject is enough. The world will love you for that very fact. Your dream clients will beat a path to your door. Commercial success and talent are not related. Business acumen is a talent in its own right. Not all designers have this as a natural skill. The perception of your talent isn’t a static thing. One educational establishment might lead you to believe that your talent is unquestionable. Another turns that on it’s head. Your first interview at a design agency doesn’t go as well as you expected and dents your confidence in your talent. Fashions change, you might be in one minute and out the next. Design as style can be fickle and your success within a particular idiom fleeting. You can’t give up because the rewards aren’t immediate or circumstances change.
    Colour is a fundamental way in which we interpret the world. It has strong cultural, political and social connotations. This project introduces eight aspects of colour theory which enables the students to make sensitive choices when combining colour. The project is in the form of a storyboard for an animation targeted at first year design students. These examples are by Bethany Wood and Margot Lombaert.

    4 Bethany Colour 4 Margot Colour

    Ninety-nine Percent Perspiration
    Thomas Edison is attributed with saying that ‘genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration’. This suggests that sheer hard work is as important as the chance gift of a talent. David Quay commenting on type design suggests that ‘[it’s] one percent greativity (that was a nice mistake)…creativity and ninety-nine percent production’. Edison also said ‘many of life’s failures are people who did not realise how close they were to success when they gave up’. Perseverance in the early stages of learning anything is key. My experience of teaching mature students has led me to believe that a highly motivated person who works persistently hard eventually succeeds. It doesn’t require genius or that undefined notion of what talent is. Success though is relative. When I taught at undergraduate level I often defined success when a failing student finally passed. My colleague David Dabner use to award a ‘distance travelled’ prize, not to the highest achiever, but for the student who had come the furthest. Design isn’t easy. It takes a lot of hard work. More often than not you get it ‘wrong’. It requires perseverance through hours of trial and error.
    The information design project enables students to bring together image, colour, typography and structure to convey complex information in an understandable form. In the first example Lizzie Toole analyses the contents of a humble tin of beans. The second example by Siobhan Hickey celebrates 50 years of Bond movies. Each segment represents a film, the green areas are the number of villains killed per film, the red dots – Bond’s amorous conquests. The final example sees Tom Hornby using Processing software to map out data relating to every station and stop in Britain. Imagine if this was an animation showing the growth of Britain’s transport infrastructure over time.

    5 Lizzie Information Design5 Siobhan Bond Infomation DesignMap-WonB-560x760_2

    The 10,000 Hour Rule
    Malcolm Gladwell in his book Outliers introduces the ‘10,000 hour rule’. This is the minimum number of hours Gladwell claims his case studies put in before becoming successful. His case studies included Bill Gates and The Beatles. Paul McCartney, commenting on Gladwell’s theory states, ‘when you look at a group who has been successful… I think you always will find that amount of work in the background. But I don’t think it’s a rule that if you do that amount of work, you’re going to be as successful as the Beatles’. Type designer David Quay with typical humour quipped: ‘The 10,000 hours for me…does not work, you have to spend your whole life doing it to be better! But there is this moment when you feel competent enough (that was yesterday!)’. Michael Johnson observes on behalf of the design profession that ‘it [success] doesn’t happen over night and short-circuiting the process rarely works’. Whatever your definition of success, it is unlikely that there are any guarantees of quick routes through to that success.
    The Professional and Academic Contexts project allows students to examine an aspect of structure related to the urban environment through an A3 publication. Dorota Zurek considered the plight of the Aylesbury Estate in SE17; Jason Aquino looked at how our perception of structure is influenced by lighting conditions; musician Lillias Kinsman-Blake explored sound and the city; and Peter Carr documented the re-appropriation of space by parkour exponents.

    6 Dorota PAC 6 Jason PAC 6 Lillias PAC 6 Peter PAC

    Giving yourself the best chance
    There are factors that you can put in place which give you a better chance of succeeding: hard work; long hours; personal commitment; motivation; sacrifice; access to good teaching; genuine passion for the subject; learning basic design principles; knowing basic design theory; learning design history; reading about the subject; keeping up-to-date with developments; participating in design events; and attending exhibitions and conferences. Adrian Shaughnessy suggests the following as key qualities for designers: cultural awareness; communication skills; integrity; tenacity; risking failure; and cussedness. His views on tenacity are worth further investigation: ‘this is the ability to keep working at a task until it is right rather than settling for the first idea that appears’. Don’t settle for being just OK. He believes that these attributes are best acquired through ‘living and doing’. You can read all you want and take as many taught lessons as you like but living and breathing design, not as a chore, is how you become a designer. You don’t switch it on and off. Ultimately there are no formulas or tick box menus. It’s a life commitment you make with little guarantee of return. To paraphrase the musician, Robert Fripp, you pay the bill up front before success arrives. It takes faith.
    In her final major project Henrietta Ross considers the contemporary form of the book and its ability to mimic aspects of the internet such as hypertext links.

    7 Henrietta MP

    The Ideal Candidate
    The graphic design recruitment agency, Represent, asked a number of leading design studios what they looked for in a prospective employee – who was their ideal candidate? It shouldn’t come as a surprise that agencies employ people and not just the portfolio. What is it that makes you unique? Have you studied more than one subject previously. Do you have unusual skills or talents? Can you speak more than one language? How could you target more selectively? If you have studied architecture before visual communication maybe graphic design agencies that have a focus on environmental graphics would be worth consideration. Once you have targeted the agencies you are interested in, research the specifics of the agency you are applying to. Imagine how you would feel if someone had taken the time to find out more about you.
    Jason Aquino explores the relationship between nutrition, food types and their relationship to the body’s vital systems. This piece proposes an exhibition with dynamic interaction.

    7 Jason MP

    Right Place, Right Time
    You can do everything within your control but success still eludes you. There is the element of luck and chance to contend with – the being in the right place at the right time. You can still do something about this. It does mean being outgoing and making an effort. Attend workshops, exhibitions, lectures, etc. Those chance happenings are out there and waiting to happen. Those students of mine that have done this and chanced their luck and spoken to the people who they wanted to work for managed to make a connection. Where there is a genuine connection and you have the evidence to back your interest then your luck might be in. The message is stop hiding behind your computer and get out there and get involved.
    Lillias Kinsman-Blake examines how graphic imagery can renew the case for feminism in the 21st century. This iconic image makes the point that America has still yet to see its first female president.

    7 Lillias MP

    Promote Yourself Online
    Are you making the most of free online resources? It takes time for the search engines to find you. Think and plan ahead. Get involved in online discussions. Keep a blog – on the Design for Visual Communication course we often describe a blog as a digital sketchbook. Finished work can be displayed on resources such as Flickr and template websites such as Indexhibit or Cargo Collective. If you are experimenting with moving image why not set up a Vimeo account? All these resources become places that you can point people towards or be discovered on. If you Google yourself, how many times do you come up on the front page?
    Festival Director Utkarsh Marwah proposed the use of image projection and interaction as a method of engaging audiences with the content of performances.

    7 Utkarsh MP

    Short Courses
    Short and intense courses can help in providing a community of like-minded people which is motivating. It can provide you with technical and subject skills. Then you are left with you the individual. I’m fascinated by those that seem to ‘get it’ quite quickly and those that struggle. People just take different amounts of time to absorb information and use it. I do think most people have the capacity to learn and understand design. A ‘good’ teacher should be able to explain in a way that helps the student to understand. You should also be able to look at ‘good’ examples and learn from those by analysing why others think they are good. Colleges help to contextualise this for students by explaining the theory that underpins the practice. This makes you a more informed and rounded designer. It provides you with reference points and a language to articulate your ideas on design.
    Oxford graduate, Venetia Thorneycroft reclaimed Freud’s Book Of Dreams for the creative community in a production that Scott House, who produced it, described as the most complicated book ever.

    7 Venetia MP

    Communities of Practice
    The advantage of traditional colleges and universities, such as LCC, is that they have good analogue and digital facilities as well as extensive libraries. You get a very hands-on experience of historical and contemporary processes. They are highly motivating communities of practice. It’s the reason why I teach there. The two courses I run are PgCert and PgDip Design for Visual Communication. We teach the fundamental design principles (visual language and grammar; typography; colour; and information design). We teach design theory alongside, and not separate from, design practice. We take an integrated approach. We teach the necessary research and development methods to engage with the design process. We provide opportunities to apply the learnt skills to conceptual projects. We do this over a year both in part-time and full-time mode. Graduates have gone on to work at places such as Frost, Spin, Browns, Unit Editions, Fallon, Intro, Design Council, Sea Design, BBC and CERN. They have been published, set up their own companies and even opened a shop. You can read about the courses and see student work at the LCC course website. Here’s our 2012 publication. Here’s our 2013 publication.
    Dorota Zurek’s project Walking London revisits the notion of psycho-geography and urban exploration within South London.

    Dorota MP

    As to the secret of being good at graphic design. There are no secrets. There are no mysteries. You take the talent you have and work hard. You learn from the lessons of the past and apply these to your present and future. There are no guarantees of success, but I wish you luck, and above all – enjoy the journey fellow travellers.

    About Me
    I studied graphic design at Middlesex Polytechnic (now University). I went to work with my tutor in his studio. I worked freelance and in small to medium size companies. I eventually combined professional practice with teaching. I’ve been lucky to have secured a full-time teaching post at the London College of Communication (LCC). I also assess at the annual ISTD Student Assessments which makes me aware of current design standards amongst students on UK design courses. I run courses for mature students who are converting career. They have a degree in subjects other than graphic design such as molecular genetics, geography, music as well as design related areas such as fashion and architecture. In the spirit of practising what I preach, you can see some of my work on Flickr. You can contact me at: t.pritchard@lcc.arts.ac.uk.

    Thought for the Week, Michael Johnson
    The Ideal Candidate
    Learn Graphic Design Fast, Richard Holt
    Shillington College
    What Makes a Great Designer, Adrian Shaughnessy
    Postgraduate Diploma Q&A, Lucinda Borrell
    How to be a Graphic Designer Without Losing Your Soul, Adrian Shaughnessy
    What is a Designer, Norman Potter

    • Kinga 2:51 pm on May 15, 2013 Permalink | Reply

      I think the following quotes nicely complement some of the topics you’ve touched on, and, by the way, impressive work. Congratulations!

      In an interview led by Debbie Millman, in her podcast show “Design Matters”, Rafael Esquer said:

      “I’ve seen a lot of really talented people, but they don’t have a discipline to carry that through, and I’ve seen a lot of disciplined people that, perhaps, don’t have a natural talent, but they do amazing stuff.”

      Rafael Esquer is a graphic designer based in New York. He was Creative Director at @radical.media and is a founder of Alfalfa Studio (http://alfalfastudio.com/). Rafael worked for Eiko Ishioka, Björk, and many others…

      Eiko Ishioka is his great inspiration and he believes in what she once said:

      “I’m not genius, I’m disciplined”

      Here you can see some of her work: http://www.tumblr.com/tagged/eiko%20ishioka

      Another good quote from the interview with Rafael Esquer:

      “As designers we really need to be open minded to welcome all the disciplines, and, I think studying painting, studying sculpture, writing has helped me in what I do every day.”

      Michael Bierut is one of Rafael’s heros. In one of his essays titled “Warning: May Contain Non-Design Content” he wrote:

      “Over the years, I came to realize that my best work has always involved subjects that interested me, or — even better — subjects about which I’ve become interested, and even passionate about, through the very process of doing design work. I believe I’m still passionate about graphic design. But the great thing about graphic design is that it is almost always about something else. Corporate law. Professional football. Art. Politics. Robert Wilson. And if I can’t get excited about whatever that something else is, I really have trouble doing good work as a designer. To me, the conclusion is inescapable: the more things you’re interested in, the better your work will be.”


      To listen to the interview with Rafael Esquer go to: http://observermedia.designobserver.com/audio/rafael-esquer/37549/

  • Tony Pritchard 12:16 pm on April 11, 2010 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Band Aid, BBC, Broadcasting, Eric Gill, Ethiopian Famine 1984, , Michael Buerk, The Guardian, The Sun   

    Information Encounters Part 1: Broadcast Media 

    Jef Raskin has pointed out that ‘information cannot be designed’ but what can be designed are the ‘modes of transfer and the representations of information’. We encounter information in many different environments such as books, television, smart phones, exhibitions and websites. Each shapes our experience and perception of information. In this four part series I’ll be considering the different information environments and how information is fashioned accordingly. This first installment looks at broadcast media.

    Auntie Beeb
    The British Broadcasting Company (BBC) is known around the world for the high quality of its information provision. Lord Reith was the first Director-General of the BBC and his directive that the company should aim ‘to inform, educate and entertain’ remains the principles to which the BBC still aspires. In March 2003 they published the BBC News Style Guide and distributed it to all their radio, television and online journalists. The guide, which gathers together some of the institution’s best practice, outlines the key issues when using the English language to communicate information through the written or spoken word. Richard Sambrook who was Director of BBC News at the time of the publication’s release introduced the guide with the following statement. ‘Every time anyone writes a script for BBC News they are potentially touching the lives of millions of people – through radio, television and the internet. It brings with it responsibilities. BBC News is expected to set the highest standards in accuracy, fairness, impartiality – and in the use of language. Clear storytelling and language is at the heart of good journalism. Keep it plain and keep it simple’.
    Image: The original BBC Broadcasting House opened in 1932 and featuring statues by Eric Gill.

    Timed information
    Broadcasters receive and gather vast amounts of information in the form of statistics, words, pictures and audio recordings. This information is then greatly simplified and synthesized into digestible chunks of broadcasting. There are often limited chances to convey messages. Broadcasters are constrained by time and think in terms of seconds and minutes and not word count as with the print journalist. Commercial radio stations may typically have only three minutes each hour to broadcast eight to ten news stories.

    Broadcast writing
    Broadcast writing adopts a conversational style. The advice is to use words of few syllables and aim for the widest possible audience in terms of what is likely to be understood. Radio and television are generally not the medium for in-depth essays. Journalists have to take complex information and convert it to the essence of the story. Difficult terminology should be paraphrased in a way that an audience will understand. The top line must encapsulate the whole story and act like a bait to catch the listener’s attention. The key words must also be carefully selected. Words like government, council or policies turn most people off. Many editors subject articles to ‘the pub test’. Would a listener recount the story in the same language in the casual setting of a pub?

    Linguistic gymnastics
    Journalists have evolved a peculiar language that is seldom heard in conversation. The following are examples of ‘journalese’: ‘quiet but tense’; ‘glaring omission’; ‘rushed to the scene’; and ‘moment of truth’. Industry chiefs hammer out 11th hour settlements. People are rushed to hospital and fight for their lives. Sustained fatal injuries means the person has died – so why not say so? These are attempts to ‘sex-up’ the story. The BBC encourages the use of clear and simple language, which is written in a natural style for the ear rather than the eye.

    Pictures and words
    Television journalists are working in a bi-medial format. Writing with pictures is different from writing without them. Writing for Ceefax or online is different from delivering a radio broadcast.

    Historic moments are often encapsulated in a single word or phrase uttered by a journalist. The use of the word ‘Gotcha’ expressed a sense of retribution at the sinking of the Argentinean warship Belgrano and not regret at the loss of life.
    Image: How The Sun reported the sinking of the Belgrano.

    People power live on TV
    UK Citizen Diana Gould confronted the then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher live on television regarding the sinking of the Belgrano. The encounter on this broadcast was later reappraised. You can see this reappraisal by scrolling across the options at the end of the video below.

    A conduit for information
    A journalist is a conduit for the information they are conveying. A radio journalist adopts the view that they can see what you can’t and their duty is to describe the scene. A television journalist doesn’t need to depict in such detail. The skill is in knowing when to speak and when to remain silent. Michael Buerk’s report for the BBC on the famine in Ethiopia in 1984 inspired the band-aid movement. He said very little. The pictures told the story and he gave factual information such as how many people were affected. It is not regarded as good practice for television broadcasters to talk over everything.
    Video: Michael Buerk’s 1984 report on the Ethiopian famine which inspired the Band Aid charity record.

    Analogies to print
    In terms of sequencing information certain aspects of television and radio presentation are roughly analogous to print. The front cover of a book attempts to establish the identity for the content in much the same way the music or opening titles do on broadcast programmes. The key stories at the top of the programme act as the contents page. In radio and television these preliminary enticements are called a tease. A newspaper vendor’s stand might announce ‘Verdict in pedophile case’. It won’t tell you whether the verdict is guilty or not guilty. You have to buy the newspaper to find out. Television and radio broadcasts announce the headlines at the top of the programme and tell people what is in the news today with the enticement of more detail later.

    Presentation of broadcast information
    The television presentation of news information is constantly changing in order to maintain public interest. With the expenditure on technology broadcasters are keen to create impressive displays. Sets often have a huge graphic information board and sweeping semi-circular track. As a story arrives on screen it is accompanied by what is called a ‘slug of a story’ for example ‘Iraq bomb’ might appear on screen as the announcer is describing the scene. Although these may seem like gimmicks the intention is to make politics and hard news more accessible. If the news programme is on a commercial channel, consideration is usually given to the advertising that precedes or succeeds an item. In the past there has been unfortunate scheduling. The song ‘Disco Inferno’ once followed a radio news item on a fire in a disco.
    Image: Nicholas Owen on BBC News 24 discussing the potential impact of YouTube broadcasts on the British 2010 General Election. The news ‘slug’ at the bottom is keeping viewers informed of breaking news.

    Writing for different audiences
    The same news report is often written several times for different audiences such as: children, the world service or a pop audience. Whether the news is broadcast on a local, national or global scale will influence the information conveyed. A global audience will appreciate being told the proper names and titles of people and full information on locations and organisations. Information is now broadcast internationally 24 hours of the day crossing time zones. Stating the time or using the word foreign would have little meaning to a global audience.
    Video: How a children’s TV channel reported the death of a presenter.

    Local level information
    Information is also available on a personal level, a text message can be sent to the BBC from a mobile phone and bespoke information tailored to individual interests can be returned. News information is also going ultra local as well with information being provided at the level of the small community. The term glocal refers to the ability to scale from local to global.

    Ambiguity seems ever ready to surface and confuse. Some 2000 years ago the Roman theoretician Quintilian wrote that ’one should not aim at being possible to understand but at being impossible to misunderstand’. The following were extracted from broadcast reports. ‘For the second time in six months, a prisoner at Durham Jail has died after hanging himself in his cell’. ‘Sixty women have come forward to claim they have been assaulted by a dead gynaecologist’.

    Some advice
    When delivering information in the form of news it is a good idea not to taint it with personal opinion. The audience can decide whether something is good or bad news by themselves. Journalists are also advised not to introduce an item with a negative thought such as ‘it is likely to be of little interest to many people’. Why then would anyone begin to listen? Beginning a story with ‘As expected’ is inadvisable as it suggests the outcome is predictable.

    If the audience is unfamiliar with acronyms associated with a particular sphere of activity they will feel excluded. The full name should be spelt out first, then resort to the acronym thereafter.

    Active and passive voice
    There are situations where an active voice will enliven a sentence. A passive voice can mask an idea rather than state it explicitly. Politicians tend to adopt a passive tone of voice for example they are more likely to say ‘mistakes were made’ rather than ‘we made mistakes’. A subtle change in wording distances the individual from responsibility.

    Similar sounding words
    Certain words in the English language look and sound very similar and can lead to mistakes in conveying meaning for example; affect and effect; principle and principal and stationery and stationary. A good dictionary is advisable.

    Confusing choices
    Many of us struggle between the choices for certain words. When would you use fewer or less? What is the difference between that and which? When is it right to use may or might?

    Cue and intro writing
    Continuity between news items is vital. This often relies on what is called a cue or hook. The cue writer and correspondent need to be aware of what each other are doing so that the two match seamlessly. If the cue is a repetition of the first sentence of the report it will demonstrate a lack of good planning and an unprofessional attitude. Likewise some forethought is required when picking up from the exit of a piece.

    Numerical and statistical representation
    The writer Hilaire Belloc said that ‘lucidity is the soul of style’ and it is worth keeping this in mind when conveying complex data through broadcast media. Television uses the graphical representation of data to good effect often with animated sequences that reveal other levels of information. Newspapers provide sequential information taking the reader from the headline through introductory texts into further levels of detail contained in diagrams and charts. Radio, a medium of sound, does not have the advantage of graphic representation. It is difficult to visualise numerical information without seeing it. Too much statistical information can numb the listener and lose their sense of the story. People need to understand the broad trends in simplistic terms for example are the numbers going up, down or remaining the same? People are more likely to remember the number 3000 rather than 2993 or 3006. Mixing numerical systems such as percentages, decimals, fractions and real values will not make much sense to many people and will fail to inform the viewer or listener.

    Sensitive language
    When broadcasting information one should avoid causing unnecessary offence through thoughtless use of insensitive language. The BBC Producers’ Guidelines covers such areas as gender, ethnicity, minorities, disabilities, religious groups, sexual orientation and age.

    The rhythm of sentences
    Reading out aloud sentences intended for broadcast is important to avoid unfortunate rhythms and rhymes. A series of even length sentences can sound like a staccato proclamation. Pronunciation needs to be clear as common words are often mispronounced. Contractions or negatives can sometimes sound like a positive. It is acceptable to spell things out in broadcasting. If spelling out ‘weren’t’ to ‘were not’ makes the information clearer then the objective of clarity over rules expedience. Sibilance is a hissing sound that derives from speaking words out aloud with a preponderance of the letter ‘s’.

    Words are tools of the information trade. Using the right word to express precisely what is meant is not being pedantic. If the listener can’t have faith in the means of expression what faith can they have in the facts that are being conveyed? Where there is an alternative short word it should be used in preference to the longer alternative. Here are a few examples: ‘make’ instead of ‘manufacture’; ‘about’ not ‘approximately’; and ‘pay’ rather than ‘remuneration’. Vogue words demonstrate fashion consciousness in language but don’t always lend themselves to clear communication. Current vogue words include: fashionista and pivotal. Time is of a premium in broadcasting and one should consider single words that represent whole phrases. ‘Leaves much to be desired’ means ‘poor’. ‘By virtue of the fact that’ means ‘because’. ‘With the exception of’ means ‘except’. Concise writing is a virtue. Sometimes there is unnecessary repetition of meaning in the combination of words for example: new innovation; close scrutiny; and exact replica. John Allen, who compiled the BBC News Style Guide, concludes that ‘simplicity is the key to understanding…short words in short sentences present listeners and viewers with the fewest obstacles to comprehension’.

    Information Design, Robert Jacobson
    The BBC News Style Guide, John Allen
    The Guardian Style Guide
    Interview with Martin Shaw, Course Director Postgraduate Diploma Broadcast Journalism

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