Writing a Compelling Investigation

By Megan WannerTop 10 Tips compelling

According to “The Investigative Reporter’s Handbook,” when writing a compelling investigation, the one of the most important things to remember is to involve people as much as possible. Keeping people present throughout your story rather than just feeding your readers information attaches them to the story. Most readers find stories more interesting when they are emotionally engaging and relatable.

Engage your readers by making it seem like you are talking directly to them rather than writing for them as an audience. Readers do not like to be lectured so it is best to write in a manner that reads as if in conversational English.

As many readers get impatient with long-winded stories, it is also important to keep readers interested with details throughout the story. These details should be relevant to the reporting and used to propel the story forward.

It is essential to write a lead that grabs the attention of your readers, but that is appropriate for the story you are about to tell. The lead to “Not Until a Boy Died,” by Patricia Callahan of the Chicago Tribune does just that. The story is the first in a series about the Mega Brands children’s toy, Magnetix, being dangerous to children due to the powerful magnets they contained. She begins the story, “Sharon Grigsby pleaded with the operator at the federal safety hot line. A popular new toy, Magnetix, nearly killed one of her preschoolers,” pulling her readers into the story of a woman who is dealing firsthand with toys dangerous enough to kill children.

However, her story is not actually about Sharon Grisby or Kenny Sweet, the toddler who died six months after Grisby’s call to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). This story is about how the agency fails to regulate properly to protect consumers resulting in injury and death. Callahan uses the stories of both of these people, among others, to aide her investigative report, pulling readers into the story as they sympathize with the people involved while being informed of the risk of these toys. Callahan uses these personal stories throughout her report to keep the reader interested and aware of how the neglect of the CPSC affected consumers around the nation.

The ending is also an imperative part of the story. These are the final, parting words you have to say to your readers. You want to leave your readers with something to ponder. This is exactly what Callahan did when she ended her story with a quote from the letter Ken Sweet wrote to his deceased son,“‘… Today for me the sun doesn’t shine as bright and the future holds less excitement because you are not here to share it with.”

Read Patricia Callahan’s full Pulitzer-Prize-winning article here.

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