How to coach a writer before the writing starts

For an editor, coaching means engaging the writer in an ongoing conversation about the story, from the idea to the final edit. You probably will spend less time "fixing" a story when it comes in if you invest time throughout the reporting and writing process.

One key moment to coach is after the reporting but before writing. Here are some questions you can ask that will guide the reporter toward a clearer focus on the story and help identify how to make this story different from other coverage of the topic:

  • What is the question driving the story?
  • What is the news?
  • What is the story really about? Can you say it in two to three sentences? In one word?
  • What surprised you most?
  • If it’s possible, how do you tell this story differently from the way previous stories on the subject were told?
  • Whom do you think might be the main character or characters in this story? Or, put another way, who will be featured most prominently in the story?
  • What are the quotes, anecdotes, details, scenes that stand out to you?
  • Are there any lines of tension or conflict that you’d like to develop in the story?
  • What are some possible beginnings and endings to the story?

Taken from The Language of Coaching, a self-directed course by Poynter's Roy Peter Clark at Poynter NewsU.

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    Vicki Krueger

    Vicki Krueger has worked with The Poynter Institute for more than 20 years in roles from editor to director of interactive learning and her current position as marketing communications manager.

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