1.3. Methodology

Finding the right sources or documents is not always straightforward.

The word ‘methodology’ might be associated with academic research, but it simply means the approach that you will use to carry out your investigation. You are likely to tap on a range of methods including documentary analyses, live interviews, and site visits. You have to decide which sources to use, how much time to devote to each, and how to cross-check your findings.

An important part of methodological planning is anticipating possible obstacles. Suppose you cannot obtain access to a particular document or a key source refuses to talk to you. What is your Plan B? How can you get to other evidence that will provide support or proof of equal weight?

After establishing your methodology, you can draw up a timeline for the investigation as well as 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 beating competition. If the story has already been planned for a certain publication date, work backwards and schedule necessary interviews and research to fit your timeframe. On the other hand, if you are pitching the story to an editor, your pitch should indicate the estimated date your story will be ready. If you have worked on a timeline, you would have a firmer grasp on the amount of time you need to negotiate.

If the story’s topic generates a lot of public interest, it is likely that competing media outlets are also chasing it. This lends an additional pressure to publishing quickly. But investigative reporting should not be rushed or skimped on; 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 the investigation is not yet complete.