May 17, 2009

Writing about investigations

Investigating begins with questions. What causes the greenhouse effect? How does illiteracy affect a person's life? How does rape affect the lives of women in America? How is AIDS transmitted? How do TV rating systems work? How do colleges recruit applicants? What can you find out about a famous person's personality, background, and achievements? At what age do children first acquire simple mathematical abilities? What kind of employee is most likely to be promoted? Why are sunsets yellow, then orange, red, and finally purple?

Investigating also carries an assumption that probing for answers to such questions — by observing and remembering, reading sources, interviewing key people, or conducting surveys — will uncover truths not generally known or accepted. As you dig for information, you learn who, what, where, and when. You may even learn how and why.

The purpose of investigating is to uncover or discover facts, opinions, and reactions for yourself and then to report that information to other people who want to know. A report strives to be as objective and informative as possible. It may summarize other people's judgments, but it does not editorialize. It may represent opposing viewpoints or arguments, but it does not argue for one side or the other. A report is a window on the world, allowing readers to see the information for themselves.