Tools and techniques of the story researcher









The job of the story researcher is to gather as much raw material as possible to enable the person who writes the story to do the best job. In general, the more information the writer has, the better the result.

The techniques of writing are different from those of the researcher. Here we are just concentrating on research. What follows may sound rather obvious, but it is advice based on long experience and learning embarassing lessons the hard way.


Essential tools





A good pen and back ups

Writing with a good pen makes work easy. Words flow. Your train of thought isn’t interrupted by a scratchy nib, or a half-dried up ballpoint. My own favourite is the Rotring Newton 600 with hexagonal barrel. Comfortable to write with, beautifully balanced, excellent nib. I’ve used these for twenty years.

Always carry some spare felt-tips and pencils.



Should not be too large or heavy, but above all must have good paper so you don’t have problems writing on it. You are trying to write down things in a hurry (unless you are recording or know shorthand) and if your pen is ploughing up a coarse page, or skidding on shiny or greasy paper, it’s annoying and wrecks your concentration. At least I find so.

Getting these small things right allows your attention to be on the interview rather than distractions.



See guidelines on taking good photographs (To follow)


Voice recorder

Carry spare batteries, is my advice here. If your batteries run down while recording, when played back the voices will sound like Mickey Mouse. It has happened to me not once, but twice. Once in Bhopal and once doing a really important three hour interview over the phone. (Avoid Eveready batteries of course.)

Always remember to identify who you are talking to, time, date and place, before starting to record and label your tapes. If you have a digital recorder, transfer the interview immediately or you may record over it.



The clinic community workers have had training in using videocams and making films.

The only piece of advice I have to offer here is don’t treat the thing like a stills camera. My father who was in the Navy bought a cine camera in Aden. He lined up his uniformed friends and shot about a minute of them standing in a line, grinning, absolutely still.


Next: Interviewing:  using your eyes