Writing investigations Dr. Mark Lee Hunter Adjunct Professor, INSEAD CIR Summer School, July 21-22 2007
The Goals <ul><li>Write a story (not a phone book) </li></ul><ul><li>Touch the emotions (not just the mind) </li></ul><ul><li>3. Save time, money and worry </li></ul>
A Story is NOT information Stories happen to PEOPLE Stories involve EVENTS and ACTS Stories unfold over TIME Stories happen in PLACES Stories have a MEANING IF THE STORY LACKS THESE… It’s a phone book.
Part One: Basic concepts of story-based investigation
Think of information as a story from the beginning of your research A story combines events and people into a narrative sequence with a beginning (when it started), middle (where we are now), and end (what comes next… or might). It takes into account available facts, and exposes/reconciles contradictions of fact.
What are we looking for? To test a hypothetical story. <ul><li>A good hypothesis: </li></ul><ul><li>Takes the best information you have into account. </li></ul><ul><li>Contains factual assertions (terms) that can be verified. </li></ul><ul><li>Can be written in three sentences or less. </li></ul>
Where do you get your hypothesis? In all the classic ways: A tipster Attention plus intuition The official story ALL OF THESE ARE HYPOTHESES… UNTIL THEY’RE PROVEN
Example One: The Danone Boycott This is how the CEO told it: “ In April and May 2001 we were hit with a national consumer boycott and labor unrest. The boycott had no effect on the group’s revenue forecasts. The storm is over !” Markets applauded, the stock went up, media opined that no boycott ever worked in France. But suppose it’s just a hypothesis?
Facts you can test in the story Personal experience : Everyone I knew boycotted Danone. To no effect? Holes in the story : Danone said its results were on target. It did not say if that were true of France. Nor did it say what happened to the labor unrest.
The analysts knew the story <ul><li>Tracking ten analysts showed: </li></ul><ul><li>Most downgraded their recommendations of Danone, saying boycott/strike effects were greater than Danone admitted to the media. </li></ul><ul><li>THE STORY: </li></ul><ul><li>Management sacrificed credibility to stop the boycott, lost 25 % of Danone’s market cap, company nearly taken over. The boycott worked. </li></ul>
Example Two: Baby Doe My boss said to me: “I just heard from a tipster that doctors are killing prematurely-born, handicapped babies. “ Prove it. ” Or else.
Get out of the trap Basic method: Decompose the statement so that each element can be separately verified.
What can we check here? “ Doctors (but what specialty?)…” Search medical lit DBs with keywords “premature birth” “ ... Are killing prematurely-born babies ( How many? Out of how many born each year? Are mortality rates rising?)…” Check natality stats in detail
What more can we check? <ul><li>“ ... To stop them from growing up handicapped.” </li></ul><ul><li>What handicaps afflict premature newborns? </li></ul><ul><li>Are there more now than ever before? When did this trend begin? </li></ul>
Chronology is King <ul><li>Helps you keep track of data </li></ul><ul><li>Suggests relationships in data </li></ul><ul><li>Tells you what to look for next </li></ul><ul><li>Facilitates outline when you write </li></ul>
Points to remember when you do it: <ul><li>A chronology is a DB, so make it easy to search: </li></ul><ul><li>Always enter dates in the same format </li></ul><ul><li>Always spell names the same way </li></ul><ul><li>Always link dates to documents (addresses, document references, website pages, etc.) </li></ul><ul><li>Take notes on entries to capture ideas and insights. </li></ul>
Even a summary chronology helps First results: Publicly available data show a curve like this for premature births, and also for handicaps like cerebral palsy, in the US: 1996 1970 1982
What the medical research said One article contained a reference to the “Baby Doe Laws”, passed in 1982. They required physicians to use all possible means to “save” prematurely-born babies – even if horrendous handicaps resulted, and regardless of parental wishes.
THE STORY WE WROTE “ An obscure Federal law created a population of pain…. “ A quarter-million terribly handicapped children… “ And another law took away their social security.”
Avoiding error: “Clean the Closet” If your hypothesis is true… There are parallel effects that should be occurring. Ex: IF there are a quarter-million handicapped kids… THEN they are in schools, transport, on the street… Deduce such effects, prove or disprove!
Review of concepts Start with a story and check it out. If the story doesn’t check, change it. If you can’t say it in three sentences, you don’t understand your story.
Part Two: The techniques you need to make it work
Get assets, not just info Capture ideas/impressions on NB (including emotions, scenes, descriptions, etc.) Collect contact info (and organise) Collect documents, review regularly and organise
Organise your documents <ul><li>DO NOT: </li></ul><ul><li>Leave papers in piles </li></ul><ul><li>Move them constantly </li></ul><ul><li>Copy Internet pages by URL (give names!) </li></ul><ul><li>DO: </li></ul><ul><li>Arrange papers alphabetically and in subject files in one place (copy sensitive docs and move the copy to safe place) </li></ul><ul><li>Copy key passages into chronology with citation data </li></ul>
Make a Data Dump In the chronology: Place portraits, document refs and citations, ideas, notes on meanings and events, etc. PUT IN EVERYTHING YOU MAY USE. YOU WILL NEED IT.
From chronology to outline Rename chronology file. Mark key passages. CUT AND PASTE in order of use. “ Write through” edited chronology
BENDING THE CHRONOLOGY In real life, the chronology has a beginning (where it started), middle (where we are now), end. In a journalistic investigation, typically begin where we are now , go back to show how we got here , then say where it is going next.
DO NOT CONFUSE YOUR PUBLIC Avoid back and forth movement in time (use sidebars or quick flashbacks) Remind us who is speaking Avoid acronymitis Give sense to numbers with comparisons
Read before you write ID a writer/filmmaker (historian, philosopher, novelist, journalist, etc.) who dealt with a parallel situation/story. Read/view carefully for: structure (how does the story move?), style (satire, pathos, sympathy, etc.) and rhythm . Borrow without copying .
A Few Words About Style Beginners worry too much about style. Style is personal and a function of character. It will emerge naturally. Stylistic tricks (voices, narrative devices, etc.) become coffins that trap and kill the story. A simple style can be made complicated, but not the reverse!
Scene by scene construction Go through the chronology and select key scenes. Confirm that you know: what the place is like, who was there, what they did, what they said (dialogue), how you know it. Construct the scene using these elements, like a novelist.
LET THE SOURCES SPEAK!!! <ul><li>Beginners waste time trying to write perfect sentences about events that affected someone else. Let people who lived the story tell it. </li></ul><ul><li>NEVER STAND IN FRONT OF VICTIMS. What YOU feel does not matter compared to them! </li></ul>
When the draft is done…. Is it coherent ? (the details fit together) Is it complete ? (all questions are answered, contradictions are resolved) Does it MOVE well?
RHYTHM IS KING A good story is like a train. The reader/viewer must be invited to get on. The writer must get the train moving. DO NOT STOP THE TRAIN. SLOW IT DOWN ONLY TO RELIEVE THE READER OR SUMMARIZE BRIEFLY.
Editing the work Watch out for long sentences. They reveal your confusion + slow you down. Watch out for long paragraphs. When a person/place/idea changes, so should the paragraph. Watch out for bureaucratic language. It makes sense only to bureaucrats.
For writing samples using this method… Please visit my site: http://markleehunter.free.fr