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Be a Reporter

Posted on Wednesday, May 20, 2009 at 1:54 PM

Breathe life and reality into your writing by reporting with these 4 tips.

By Melinda Copp

When most people think of a reporter, they think about journalists on TV or at a newspaper. However, when as an editor you find yourself preparing your own article for publication, putting on a reporter's hat can often help you to add an interesting dimension to your article. Reporting involves going out and observing the real world, interviewing real people, and researching real places. And regardless of what kind of article you'll ultimately be writing, reporting can make your writing more personal and realistic.

Fellow writers in many different roles benefit from that reporter's hat. Nonfiction book 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 a 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. They can even gather real-life scenarios to fictionalize in your story.

Although all writers can use reporting, not all writers have worked on honing their skills as a reporter. 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.

Tip 1

Take good notes. This may seem like a no-brainer, but 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 d├ęcor -- 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.

Tip 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.

Tip 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.

Tip 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 editor should master and practice. When you use these four tips for reporting, you can add depth, reality, and personality to your research and articles.

Melinda Copp is a writing coach, ghostwriter, and book editor who specializes in helping authors reach their writing goals. Visit her website at www. finallywriteabook.com where she offers a free special report.

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