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It is not always easy to find necessary sources or documents right away. In these cases, a journalist might have to devise creative methods to obtain them. We tend to associate methodology with academic activities, but it simply means the approach that you will use to carry out your research. Based on the range of methods available, you need to plan a rigorous combination of documentary research, live interviews, site visits or observations, and other approaches. You will need to decide which sources to use, how much time to devote to each, what cross-checking procedures will be used, and how you will proceed through these stages of work.

You should always been looking for evidence that will substantiate your hypothesis. You can do this indirectly by building up the picture of a context, background, history or climate in which certain things are more likely to have happened. But you can do this most efficiently by getting relevant evidence from your sources.

An important part of methodological planning is thinking ahead to the possible obstacles you may encounter. Suppose you cannot obtain access to a particular document or a key source refuses talk to you. What is your Plan B? How can you put together alternative evidence that will provide support or proof of equal weight?

As soon as you have determined your methodology, you can construct a timeline for the investigation and your budget. The timeline is your estimate of how long the investigation will take: How many hours will you spend in archives, interviewing, searching the web and writing?

As well as the time consumed by various tasks, two other important factors in constructing your timeline are deadlines and competition. If the story has already been commissioned or diarised, work backwards from the submission deadline, and schedule necessary interviews and research within your timeframe. If, on the other hand, you are pitching the story to an editor, work from your starting point, so that your pitch indicates the date your story will be ready. Negotiation is usually part of this process, but if you have worked on a timeline, you will be able to negotiate the time you need.

If the story concerns a ‘hot’ topic of public concern, it is possible that competing media are also chasing it. If you know this, it may be necessary to speed up your work in order to publish first. But investigative reporting should not be rushed or skimped; doing so can lead to legal consequences. With a timeline in front of you, you will be able to decide the earliest point at which something coherent and substantial can be published, even if it is not yet the complete investigation.