Ask Questions with Childlike Persistence

 In Writing and Editing

As any parent with young children will tell you, kids have no problem asking questions. Even the simplest declaration can set off an avalanche of inquiries that would make the most experienced journalist proud. They leave no possibility unexplored and are committed to revealing every detail.

When writing a story for your email newsletter or blog that requires fact gathering via research or interviews, it is important for us to ask all the right questions as well. I have learned over the last 25 years or so that the most important part of the story-writing process is making sure to ask the questions that your readers would ask if they had the same opportunity.

Of course, we all know about the six biggies – who, what, why, where, when and how – and if those are all answered you should be in pretty good shape. In reality, though, it is not always that simple. Unless you are writing about an upcoming church bake sale, you need to understand the subject as well as possible and then get at the heart of what your story should really be about.

If it is profile of a supporter, for example, don’t waste time asking about resume stuff, ask about what motivates them to be part of your organization. Ask them who they respect. Ask them what advice they would give the next generation of supporters.

Here’s another helpful hint: Listen to what they are saying. It is really easy to write down their answers and move on instead of listening and following up with another question that could shed light on something you did not expect. Many times, that is where the best stuff comes from.

So while I am not recommending that your treat your next interview subject like a parent who just announced the family is going to the zoo tomorrow, I do encourage you to take a moment to think about what you need to ask. Make a list of questions ahead of time that covers all the bases, and then step back and ask yourself what else someone reading this would want to know. Go beyond the obvious to get to the place that allows you to tell a great story.

And that will be a huge step toward making you a better writer.

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