Indiana University

National Sports Journalism Center

Our Voices

Fifty more dos and don’ts on sportswriting . . .

Fifty more dos and don’ts on sportswriting . . .

1. Ride a Zamboni.

2. Then stand at the Zamboni gate. Put your nose to the glass. You’ll really learn things you thought you already knew. Like, those guys are BIG and they’re FLYING. Also, the sound of steel blades slicing ice is scary.

3. When you see men in warmup suits identifying them as "Muskegon Lumber Jacks," talk to the block of granite nearest your sandwich-shop table. He could turn out to be Damian Surma. Center. Nine years a pro, in the NHL briefly, now in the IHL. "Crash Davis?" I said, and he smiled. My friend Lisa asked, "You ever been hurt?" Surma said, "How much time you got?" An orthopedic tour followed.

4. Read good stuff. Here’s Damon Runyon on gambling: "One of these days in your travels, a guy is going to come to you and show you a nice, brand-new deck of cards on which the seal is not yet broken, and this guy is going to offer to bet you that he can make the jack of spades jump out of the deck and squirt cider in your ear. But, son, do not bet this man, for as sure as you stand there, you are going to wind up with an earful of cider."

5. Allow yourself to be squeezed out the door. As a minor-league manager, the old Cub second baseman Wayne Terwilliger, hooked his ace in favor of a reliever whose first pitch was turned around into a walk-off grand-slam home run. I asked Twig why he changed pitchers. "Who’re you?" the skipper shouted. "You’re a kid! You’re second-guessing me?" His explosions ended only when I, in a doorway, saw the door coming shut against me. I decided the better part of professionalism was to exit without further repartee.

6. Make notes of things you learned while looking up other stuff. Dwyane Wade, Kid Rock, Muhammad Ali, Cus D’Amato, James Earl Jones, and Benjamin Franklin all were born on January 17.

7. Next time you see anyone reading gambling ads in a newspaper, set the paper on fire.

8. Now, in response to my request for tips from other sportswriters, here are eight from the crafty veteran Wendell Barnhouse, a correspondent . . .

9. "Don’t force a trite ending. When you’re transcribing/organizing quotes, look for a good ender. Save it like the Yankees save Rivera."

10. "It’s not ‘said Kindred,’ it’s ‘Kindred said.’"

11. "Good reporting leads to good writing. If you’ve got good facts, interesting anecdotes and great quotes, writing the story is simple."

12. "When you’ve got a killer quote, make the transition to that quote as simple as possible. Think basketball: a bounce pass often works better than the no-look behind-the-back pass."

13. "Read along as you write. If it doesn’t flow, make another run at it. Lead the reader down a straight path; not through a maze."

14. "Never use 10 words when five do the job."

15. "The best questions contain the key words of journalism: Why, what, who, when, how."

16. "READ. Ask for Best American Sportswriting of the Year for Christmas. Read the compilations of Red Smith, Jim Murray, Dan Jenkins, et al. Read, read, read. Then read some more."

17. Read this bit from Crash Davis’s friend, Annie Savoy: "You see, there’s no guilt in baseball, and it’s never boring . . . which makes it like sex. There’s never been a ballplayer who slept with me who didn’t have the best year of his career. Making love is like hitting a baseball: you just gotta relax and concentrate. Besides, I’d never sleep with a player hitting under .250. . . not unless he had a lot of RBIs and was a great glove man up the middle. . . .’Course, what I give them lasts a lifetime: what they give me last 142 games. Sometimes it seems like a bad trade. But bad trades are part of baseball – now who can forget Frank Robinson for Milt Pappas, for God’s sake. It’s a long season and you gotta trust. I’ve tried ‘em all, I really have, and the only church that truly feeds the soul, day in, day out, is the Church of Baseball."

18. Never spend another dollar on The Washington Times.

19. Never, as in not now or ever.

20. Buy a real paper.

21. Here’s why. "It’s a strange sensation. Since it became official last week that the sports section was being shut down, it’s like my feet haven’t touched the ground. The only other time in my life I’ve felt like this was when my father died. I know it’ll pass, but right now I’m riding a hot-air balloon." The Times’ lead columnist, Dan Daly, sent those words to me in an e-mail. Too many of us have been cut loose, set adrift without a destination. But only the Rev. Moon killed an entire sports section.

22. Do what the Times did, tell us the emperor has no clothes. When I moved to the Washington area 12 years ago I was as near to the ordinary reader as I ever will be. This ordinary reader saw a difference between the sports sections of the Times and The Washington Post, especially in coverage of the Redskins. The Post genuflected at the feet of the boy emperor, Dan Snyder. The Times saw him as a football incompetent. Dan Daly first cast Snyder as a fantasy-football owner eager to collect big names. Daly wrote, "Whether or not it helps the Redskins get to the Super Bowl, signing Deion Sanders sure looks good. Just as signing Bruce Smith, Mark Carrier and Jeff George looked good. We have entered the Age of Appearances at Redskin Park. A player acquisition is only as good as its buzz – and buzz emanates, at least in part, from reputation and name recognition and things that don’t have anything to do with winning football games."

23 When you nail the truth, keep it nailed. Dan Daly did that for a decade of Snyder’s failures. His colleagues Dave Elfin and Rick Snider beat the Post so often with such effectiveness that even an ordinary reader came to believe that the bigger paper avoided stories that would irritate the boy emperor.

24. Stop right here, send an e-mail to your buddies at The Washington Times.

25. Make a note of the source any time you print out something. Otherwise, you’ll find yourself doing what I’m about to do, which is publish a list without giving credit – but it’s too good to pass up: "Tiger. Pitino. Letterman. Gov. Mark Sanford. Jon Gosselin. Steve Phillips. Big Ben. Steve McNair. Arturo Gatti. Shawne Merriman. The creep who taped Erin Andrews." The implied question is, which creep is 2009’s creepiest?

26. We’re all expert at finding fault. Be different. Stand on the roof and shout when you find something you like.

27.. Do not write ". . . 23-year-old, Minnesota-born, left-handed hitting shortstop Joe Doakes." You don’t talk in adjective clusters, don’t write ‘em.

28. Give life to your characters. Height, weight, shape, color of eyes and hair. What’s the sound of your subject’s voice? Be bold, interpret body language and mood.

29 Winning isn’t everything. My favorite Charlie Brown cartoon has Linus celebrating because his team has won. He describes in increasingly giddy detail the exhilaration of the winners – until Charlie stops him by asking, "How’d the other team feel?" Go the loser’s locker room, find out.

30. Choose five-cent words over five-dollar words, the one syllables over the polysyllabics (see?).

31. Eliminate adverbs.

32. Be wary of adjectives.

33. Never trust a high school program’s spellings.

34. Gotta find a gym in a strange town? Never trust Mapquest.

35. Now, John Lowe of the Detroit Free Press offers "four steps to proofread your story."

36. "Read only the quotes. They’re an easy place to make typos on small words and leave out words, especially if you’ve quickly transcribed the quotes. ‘It’ can easily become ‘if’ if you’re not careful, and ‘of’ can turn into ‘on.’"

37. "Go to the last paragraph. Double-check each name for spelling and accuracy (is this the right person or institution or place?). Then go to the second-to-last paragraph and do the same. Keep checking names end-to-beginning, one paragraph at a time. This way, you don’t get caught up in the flow of the story and sound of your own writing."

38. "Go to the last paragraph and double-check all numbers in it. Now do the same one paragraph at a time, bottom to top, as with the name-checking in step 2."

39.. "Take your hands off the keyboard. Then read the story as if it’s already in print or on the Internet. Look for only the most obviously wrong things – something that would make you say, ‘Oh no.’ Like referring to ‘Tuesday’ as ‘Thursday.’"

40. Read good stuff, like Carl Spackler’s monologue in "Caddyshack" wherein he explains a day’s work as a caddy in the Himalayas: "So, I tell them I’m a pro jock, and who do you think they give me? The Dalai Lama, himself. Twelfth son of the Lama. The flowing robes, the grace, bald … striking. So, I’m on the first tee with him. I give him the driver. He hauls off and whacks one – big hitter, the Lama – long, in a ten-thousand foot crevasse, right at the base of this glacier. Do you know what the Lama says? Gunga galunga … gunga, gunga-lagunga. So, we finish the eighteenth. And he’s gonna stiff me. And I say, ‘Hey, Lama, hey, how about a little something, you know, for the effort, you know.’ And he says, ‘Oh, uh. There won’t be any money, but when you die, on your deathbed, you will receive total consciousness.’ So I got that goin’ for me, which is nice."

41. Write, then rewrite.

42. Then rewrite the rewrite. Good writing is rewriting.

43. Use simple, declarative sentences. Experiment with a story that has no sentence longer than 20 words.

44. Put notes in all of today’s bottles. Get cell numbers, use them. Twitter addresses, use them. Facebook, use it.

45. Buy a video camera as a reporting tool. You’ll see things you didn’t catch the first time around. Set the camera on a tripod during an interview.

46. Red Smith said, "Be there," and added a metaphor, "I like to catch the scent of the cabbage cooking." Make Red’s metaphor literal. Smells can define a place.

47. Always, make it human.. The Dodgers scout Al Campanis once explained the phenomenon of Sandy Koufax by saying that when he took a bat and stood in against that fast ball, "The hairs on my arms stood up. The only other time that ever happened to me was in the Sistine Chapel."

48. Write short when you can. Abraham Lincoln needed 274 words at Gettysburg. The Declaration of Independence is 1,322 words. The U.S. government’s regulations on the sale of cabbage run to 29,611 words.

49. To read George Will on Babe Ruth – "He was an Everest in Kansas" – is to understand that six words can be enough.

50. Oops, just checked the word count here. Better quit.

Dave Kindred’s next book will be "Morning Miracle," an inside-the-newsroom account of two years in the life of The Washington Post. Now a contributing writer at Golf Digest, Kindred is a Red Smith Award winner and member of the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association Hall of Fame. He can be reached at He can be followed at and

No Responses to “Fifty more dos and don’ts on sportswriting . . .”

    Leave a Reply

    You must be logged in to post a comment.

    Our Voices

    Guest Blogs

    more Guest Blogs »

    The Buzz

    Feb 2, 2015UK paper declares Revolution Super Bowl champs

    The Daily Mail, a newspaper in the United Kingdom, named the New England Revolution, Boston’s MLS franchise, Super Bowl Champions. [Awful Announcing]

    Jan 19, 2015Seahawks delete controversial MLK tweet

    The Seahawks tweeted a picture containing an MLK quote superimposed over a photo of quarterback Russell Wilson, later deleting it. [Deadspin]

    Dec 15, 2014University of Arizona fans petition to ban Bill Walton

    A petition created by University of Arizona basketball fans entitled, “Ban Bill Walton from announcing Arizona basketball games” is close to its goal of 1,000 […]

    more of The Buzz »