1.1. Be accurate

Definitions and examples: Define jargon and complex terms for your audience, and stick to the same definition throughout. Also make the abstract concrete through the use of examples.

Unproven generalisations: Understand the meaning and the differences between terms such as ‘most’, ‘many’, ‘some’, or ‘few’. Use them appropriately. Be careful with the distinction between ‘most’ and ‘many’, and even more particular about saying ‘all’ or ‘none’. Is something ‘the reason’ or ‘one of the reasons’? Is it ‘always’ or ‘often’? Make the general specific by citing concrete instances, and quoting named individuals.

Supporting arguments: Support all statements with concrete details. Do not attack a person when you should be criticising an idea or a system. Stick to discussing facts and arguments. Let readers make up their minds whether favours have a particular intent. Sometimes, letting the evidence speak for itself is enough.

Quoting authorities as proof: List pros and cons, and treat them in a balanced way. It is also important to focus on the reasons behind authorities’ actions. Why did someone say something? Talk to a range of relevant sources, not just one, to help with background research and quotes.

Prejudice, stereotypes or emotions: Avoid stereotypes — whether positive or negative — keep your language neutral and treat all sources with the same healthy scepticism.

Asking ‘so what’?: A good way to remember whether your information is relevant to your hypothesis is to ask yourself, “So what?” It is possible to write an accurate and convincing investigative story based on the weight of the evidence as a whole, rather than a single clincher. When you have a great deal of evidence, make them tight and explicit, perhaps by returning to your sources and having them explain issues in greater detail. You may also need to establish context early on. This will provide your audience with information about the environment in which actions and consequences took place. It adds information about whether those involved had means, motive and opportunity to do the things you allege.