Research Report #16:
Editors and Reporters: The Scientific Method
Is the Basic Method of Investigative
Who, What, When, Where, Why?
Journalists have long been taught steps or the value of method for writing
stories. This method formula serves a purpose for much reporting, but it is
not enough for the complex investigative reporting required now. Today investigative
reporters need to use the scientific method.
Using the Scientific Method for Investigative Reporting
The scientific method (SM-14) is the basic guide to originating, refining,
extending, and applying knowledge in all fields. This is essentially the objective
of information reporting. SM-14 is not a method for trite or formula stories.
It is a flexible method with no rigid steps or rules. It calls for creative,
in-depth reporting and scholarly investigation, which can provide readers
with solutions to problems, not just stories concerning the problem.
Parts of the Scientific Method
This explains the use of the steps or stages and ingredients of SM-14 which
are the parts of the scientific method for story and investigative reporting.
It will help if you review the pages mentioned here from The Scientific Method
Today booklet on this website as we proceed.
Step or Stage 1 – Curious Observation. Most
stories originate in curious observation. You develop your senses of seeing,
hearing, feeling, smelling, and tasting to find news. Read other periodicals
extensively; listen. Creativity and curious observation are used in every
Step or Stage 2 – Is There a Problem?Having found or been assigned
a newsworthy problem that needs reporting or investigation,
you must analyze it thoroughly and then define it.
Step or Stage 3 – Goals and Planning.Set
your goals and plan how to reach them. Plan along the lines of the old guides
of who, what, where, why, how, and when. Meet deadlines.
Step or Stage 4 – Search, Explore, and Gather the Evidence.Get all
the information, not relying on rumors. Look for various angles, leads, differences,
or surprise discoveries. Utilize all resources. Challenge the “facts.” Ask
experts and others the right questions. Make notes.
Step or Stage 5 – Generate Creative and Logical Alternative Solutions.
While searching, load your mind; then watch for rest-illumination, gradual
insight, or illumination triggered by reading or other activities. Use imaginative,
skeptical, reflective thinking.
Step or Stage 6 – Evaluate the Evidence. Now start to whip your story
into shape. Evaluate and recognize pertinent, important, and unusual data.
Need more data? Check for accuracy.
Step or Stage 7 – Make the Educated Guess (Hypothesis).
Put the beginning, middle, and end of your story into working shape in a form
the public can understand.
Step or Stage 8 – Challenge the Hypothesis. Hold on! There are libel
suits and critical chief editors to be dealt with. Challenge, review, and
polish your story so that everything is in order.
Step or Stage 9 – Reach a Conclusion. You
challenged all phases of your story. If necessary, you’ve backtracked and
modified. You then reach a conclusion that your story is okay and that you’re
helping readers attain real world smarts.
Step or Stage 10 – Suspend Judgment. Conceit and bias have no place
in reporting. You tried hard, but keep an open mind about your conclusions.
Others will be challenging you!
Step or Stage 11 – Take Action. Finally,
you are ready to submit your story for review or to go to press with it. Acceptance
will be easier if you followed SM-14.
Supporting Ingredients 12, 13, 14. Creative,
Non-Logical, Logical, and Technical Methods (Ingredient 12) are all used in
reporting, as are Procedural Principles and Theories (Ingredient 13) and Attributes
and Thinking Skills (Ingredient 14).