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Reporting Tips

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Breathing Life and Reality into Your Writing by Reporting
By Melinda Copp

When most people think about reporting, they think about journalists at the newspaper—those are the real pros. But reporting is going out and observing the real world, interviewing real people, and researching real places. And regardless of what you’re writing—a novel, a case study, your memoir—reporting can make your writing more personal and realistic.

Nonfiction writers use reporting to gather information and anecdotes for their work, and fiction writers use it to render realistic worlds on the page. For example, if your novel’s main character is a teacher, you might interview a teacher or two about what their day is like, how the school system works, and how they handle their students. You can even gather real-life scenarios to fictionalize in your story.

Although all writers can use reporting, not all writers are trained journalists. But it’s not hard to learn how to get the information you need from interviews and work in the field, and the following tips will get you started.

1. Take good notes. This may seem like a no-brainer, but even it’s so important that it needs to be mentioned. You can record sound, but you should also write down everything you can. If you’re interviewing and you miss something, ask the person to repeat what they said. And if you’re in the field, don’t forget to note your surroundings—the weather, the landscape, the office décor—wherever you are, write about what that place looks like in your notes. Keep in mind that if you don’t get it the first time, you might have to go back.

2. Step outside your comfort zone. No one likes picking up the phone or, worse yet, approaching people in person for an interview. It’s uncomfortable for even experienced reporters because it requires stepping out of your comfort zone. But oftentimes, that’s what it takes to get the best information and ultimately the best story. And once you overcome your own hesitation, you will likely find that people will go out of their way to be helpful to you. One of my mentors (a very experienced reporter) recently told me that whenever I experience this hesitation and feel like running away from an interview, I need to do the opposite because an unwillingness to step outside your comfort zone will show in your work.

3. Go in without assumptions. Reporting is about understanding—understanding another person’s perspective, situation, and experiences. And if you go into an interview with assumptions about the person you’re talking to, the subject, or anything else about the situation, you automatically close yourself off to the depth of understanding you would have otherwise. You may even offend your interview subject, which will close that person off to you. So keep an open mind, seek to understand, and leave your assumptions at home.

4. Let curiosity lead you. Reporters are innately curious, and the best ones let their curiosity lead them to the good stuff. Talk to everyone, go everywhere, use every opportunity that comes your way to find out more. Reporting means finding out as much as you can about a topic, whether or not you use all the material you get. So sit and talk, explore, and see what else you can find. Many times you will find the best material in the most unexpected places.

Reporting is a skill that every writer should get to know and try. When you use these four tips for reporting, you can add depth, reality, and personality to your research, stories, and writing projects.

About the Author:

Melinda Copp is a writing coach, ghostwriter, and book editor who specializes in helping aspiring authors reach their writing goals. Sign up for her free e-zine at www.FINALLYwriteabook.com, and get a free special report!

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