Research plans (for depth reporting)
As journalists, we are researchers. Every day we are asked to investigate reports, verify or refute rumors and to report the results of our research to our respective audiences. Top journalists learn how to develop research strategies efficient in gathering relevant data and information. Some do this instinctively, perhaps through what Keith Fuller of the Associated Press called a highly developed set of “journalistic instincts.”
In chapters 2-3 of The Search (Wadsworth: Belmont, Calif., 1992) Lauren Kessler & Duncan McDonald describe the process of developing a search plan for any story. Briefly,
- Your research goes from the general to the specific, using reference guides such as encyclopedias and almanacs to build a basic core of knowledge, then moving to more detailed, specialized sources to deepen knowledge.
- Research is based on specific questions formulated at the start of the research and throughout the process as new information is discovered. These questions help break the search into its component parts and guide the researcher to specialized, primary material.
The main purpose of working through a research plan is to provide a tested, structured approach for "getting up to speed" on a topic. In the process of developing the plan, we explore the topic; find out what has been written already; identify the key players on the topic, the issues and where the players line up on the issues. We think through the process of our topic and refine it.
For class, you do thisFor each Depth Piece you do in this class, you are required to complete a formal research plan. This means you will provide in two pages or less the following specific information, laid out in numbered sections, as below. This does not need to be eloquent prose; it is primarily the guide to your research notes.
- A statement of your general topic and the beat under which it falls.
State your NEWS HOOK. Typically, this is a brief statement that ties your topic directly to something in the news and helps explain why we should run this story NOW and not last week or next week. Your news hook needs to be local and current.
- List the possible headings under which information on your topic will be found, according to the Library of Congress Subject Headings.
- Write a summary (two-three paragraphs) of what you found in general background resources such as encyclopedias, almanacs and Statistical Abstracts of the United States.
- List books as well as recent magazine, newspaper, and journal articles which treat your topic. Give brief abstract of two-three articles.
- List specific questions you believe your research must answer relative to your topic.
- A list of sources – people and agencies – you might contact to develop your report. Give phone numbers (and addresses where appropriate). Be sure to apply the “all the players” rule from the Three-Ds of Depth Reporting here.
Beat AreasFor the purposes of this class, you may select from among the following beats.
|City Government||Federal Government||State Government|
|County Government||International Relations|
Reminder: Your two-page report should be clearly arranged around six numbered items (as above), single spaced. Any extra notes you take, photocopies, brochures or similar items should be gathered with your two-page research plan. The plan is more an outline, a basic guide for the more detailed work you do. You do not routinely turn in your notes, but you may be asked to at any time. You will not be graded separately on your research plan, but your care in doing research will affect the grade you get for the depth report you produce from the research.