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Guidelines for Newswriting

When delivering information to a general audience, it’s important to write in a clear, understandable way. The best way to do that is to adhere to newswriting standards. These standards, which have been used in traditional newsrooms for decades, are designed to bring readers the information they need in a format that is as efficient and easy-to-read as possible.

Inverted Pyramid

This is how you should organize your story. That means the most fundamental, important information (the “base” of the pyramid) goes up at the top, and information that is less crucial goes further down in the story. To figure out what your base is, think about the five Ws: Who, What, When, Where, and Why, as well as the crux of the story. If people only read the first few lines of the story, what’s most important for them to know? That’s where you should begin.

Lead (Also Spelled Lede)

This is the inviting entry point to your story. Think of it as the introduction, the establishing shot that tells people what the story is about using the most significant piece of information. For example, if your lead says X program received Y grant, that’s not enough. Was it the biggest grant in the program’s history? Did it impact someone involved in an important way? Think about what will grab people’s attention right at the start. Ideally, keep the lead to one or two clear and concise sentences.

Nut Graf (or Graph)

This is a critical paragraph that supports the lead with facts. You’ve used the biggest piece of information up top — the nut graf backs up that statement with details and moves the story along.


Anything that’s not a verifiable fact, like quotes or opinion statements, must be attributed to someone in the story – don't just let them hang out unsupported.


When introducing a person in your story, use their full name and title on first reference, but afterward refer to them by their last name.

  • Example: “My students are some of the best and brightest,” said Jane Doe, an economics professor.
  • Later in the story: “I can’t imagine a better place to conduct research,” Doe said.
Citing External Sources

If another publication has featured one of your programs, professors or students and you’d like to use a quote or information from their piece, always attribute the name of the publication and include a link to the article in question. Limit how much you do this — keep it to no more than three quotes or pieces of information in any given story or news release.

  • Example: “I think the best students are here at Cal Poly,” Professor Bob Somebody told Major Publication Today. (insert a link to the publication on the words "Major Publication Today.")

Keep it Simple

Think about how you would explain it to anyone who’s not intimately familiar with the story subject. If you absolutely must use jargon or technical descriptions that wouldn’t be familiar to a casual reader, add an explanation that breaks it down for those who might need it.

Use Short Paragraphs

This helps break up the information to make it easier to read. A paragraph shouldn’t be longer than 2-3 sentences all centered on the same idea.


We like ‘em snappy! This follows the same guidelines as a lead, where you want to display the most compelling information you have. Try to keep them on the shorter side (a good guideline stays under 100 characters) and play with the format: use a compelling quote, a two-sentence headline, even a playful pun or turn of phrase.

Use AP Style

We follow the Associated Press Stylebook for formatting, punctuation and style. There are a few Cal Poly-specific exceptions, which you can find in our style guide