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How many drafts are enough?

Man typing on laptop

Stuart Horwitz brings some structure to answering a question that more than a few writers ask themselves: How many drafts does it take to turn out a finished story, book, or other piece of writing? His answer is three: "We’ll call the first draft the messy draft, which is all about getting it down. We’ll call the second draft the method draft, which is all about making sense. And we’ll call the third draft the polished draft, which is all about making it good."

The roots of new media storytelling

Scheherazade und Sultan Schariar

Some of today's most successful digital news sites are built on narrative foundations that Shakespeare would recognize, James Sullivan writes in a report on a Power of Narrative conference session by Upworthy’s editorial director, Amy O’Leary: "Just as Scheherazade preserves her own life by telling the murderous king a little more of her story each night – the ancient version of the cliffhanger – writers should always leave their readers wanting more."

Lessons for science writers from film

Studio lot

Journalism is nonfiction and film is mainly fiction, but science writers can still learn from screenwriting, Diana Crow writes: "Most science writing grad school programs include at least one unit on scripting and making documentaries. But I think that screenwriting has more to offer science writing than just a means of structuring story arcs. The techniques screenwriters use to develop characters, set up scenes, and deliver exposition can all be imported quite easily."

A fiction writer talks about scientists

Woman in silhouette against sky

Eileen Pollack writes about her struggle to produce a book about a biologist whose mother's death from Huntington’s chorea prompted her search for the gene that she too may have carried: "Writers have plenty of tricks for conveying technical information without ruining the pacing of a narrative. Think of the filmic strategies the director of The Big Short uses to explain the financial details of the mortgage fiasco without losing the attention of non-tycoons like me."

A checklist for reporting on science

Cartoon of checklist

From SciDev.Net, Bernard Appiah and Juan Casasbuenas offer tips for writing about scientific findings, including how to read a press release and the paper behind it, and how to enrich a story with further reporting and outside perspectives: "This practical guide provides you with advice on how to go beyond the abstract and press release. Following this advice will help you to find unique angles, bring a story to life, and report on science in a responsible way."

Turning a pile of PDFs into stories

Hands on a laptop keyboard

When the Idaho Statesman won the release of 8,000 documents from a health care antitrust case, Audrey Dutton was tasked to make sense of them. She explains how she did it with software: "I knew these documents held secrets. I knew they'd help our readers better understand the inner workings of health care. But I didn’t know how to organize them and make sense of hundreds of PDFs, especially without the context lawyers provide in a courtroom explaining their importance."

On balancing narrative and analysis

Writer at desk

Nicholas Lemann discusses the tension between getting the facts straight and telling a good story, and offers five pointers — such as "forming a hypothesis" — for keeping your reporting on the right track: "A central problem in the practice of journalism is that most of the time, we are trying to engage in narrative and analysis at the same time. They don’t naturally go together. Journalists more often unwittingly let the narrative distort the analysis than vice versa."

Some rules for good infographics

Earth from space, image via Shutterstock

Alberto Cairo's eight-year-old daughter asked him why the planets never stop spinning, and the search for an answer led him to create an infographic, which he presents along with some basic rules for designing good infographics: "No good infographic or data visualization … can be based on deficient data and analysis. The quality of your graphics depends fundamentally on the quality of your reporting or research, not just on how good a graphic designer you are."

Making sense of data in journalism

Roadside population sign, image via Shutterstock

The Tow Center for Digital Journalism has a new report that takes a step beyond the "how to" of data journalism and explains the underlying principles in common sense language, Shan Wang writes. A sample from the report: "Even simple counts break down when you have to count a lot of things. We’ve all sensed that large population figures are somewhat fictitious. Are there really 536,348 people in your hometown, as the number on the 'Welcome To …' sign suggests?"

Inside an Asian slave labor exposé

Thai fishing boat, image via Shutterstock

Kristen Hare interviews Martha Mendoza about her Associated Press team's stories on slave labor on southeast Asian fishing boats, including her visit to a tiny Indonesian island: "After a few days, we were able to talk to dozens of fisherman, most from Myanmar. The level of desperation was staggering. Some were locked in a cage because they had asked to go home. A jungle-covered company graveyard held the bodies of more than 60 fishermen, most buried under fake names."