Write & Promote PIN Queries - What you want to know.

Michael Caputo -

Now we get into writing and promoting queries. And we'll start by making sure you outline the essential question for a question form - the core question.

Now, what do we want to ask

Just to repeat - our work flow consists of finding the sources you want to question.... writing the questions for sources.... sending out the question form .... then reading, learning from the responses. And we said that behind all of these actions should be the question - What do you want to know.

At this stage of the game we figured out "who we want to know it from" - and created a pool of sources to question. Now we're at the stage of writing those questions.

You make drafting the questions much easier by deciding on the "core question" - the one question that your sources must answer above all others. Knowing that core question will inform the rest on your form.

One example of the "core question"

Let's return to the KPCC prison story example. How did they decide on the core question? Remember, reporters wanted to reach out to anyone who was in jail - or might have contact with inmates or former inmates. That was because they were at the start of a project... they wanted to find ideas for what to pursue when it comes to housing prisoners.

So they made their "core question" one that would seek to get any kind of story they could on what inmates experienced while in jail or in prison. Had KPCC already been seeking to look at, say, overcrowding ... then the "core question" would have tried to find out whether cramped conditions existed. Once you know that central question, you can build that form around it. 

Question pointers and style notes

Other questions to pursue should aim to evoke experiences and insights – not opinion. Tell a story. What’s the best thing about "X" or the worst thing. What else should we know about "X". Can you provide documentation about this, or a photo? Do you know others who could help the reporting?

Style notes for forms

  • Avoid opinion – we seek experience, knowledge – insight.
  • Keep questions short and keep a tight rein on the number of questions.
  • Understand the mindset of the sources. People will have little problem with questions about gas prices. Questions about sexual abuse will require a more thoughtful, sensitive approach.
  • Don’t ask leading questions.
  • Start with structured questions - the multiple choice and check box questions. It gets sources warmed up and they help you organize responses.
  • Then move to the open-ended questions - the real meat of the form.
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