Is that really what you meant to say?

In news reporting, journalists focus on getting all the most important bits of information into a story’s lead sentence — and even on getting the more interesting or important bits up toward the front of the sentence. They aim to fill this one important  sentence with the answers to all the basic questions — who, what , when, where, why, how.

When using this formula, you can end up with sentences that convey information very effectively, even though they sound quite different from the way people would speak, or how they would write in a non-news format. However, you really need to re-read sentences constructed with this formula to make sure they say what you mean, since treating pieces of information like building blocks that can be move around to fit a formula doesn’t always work. Here’s a recent example from

Metro Vancouver’s Transit Police Service on Friday released video of nine incidents in which its officers deployed Tasers in response to a CBC freedom of information request.

This fits the formula perfectly — answers to who, when, what, and why are all there — but in this case the “why”  reads like it’s part of the “what” — so it most definitely does *not* say what the writer intended it to mean.