In investigative journalism, the writing matters as much as the reporting.

By Tony Manyangadze and Banathi Mgqoboka

Reporting is only half the job in investigative journalism. Writing an article that people can not only read but also vividly understand is equally important, said Ron Nixon, the international investigations editor for the Associated Press on the second day of the 15th African Investigative Journalism Conference.

Nixon shared some of his top tips from decades of investigative journalism.

“An investigative story needs to be readable. If these stories are not readable then we lose audiences,” he said.

Here are four tips for improving your investigative writing:

1) Donkey

According to Nixon, a ‘donkey’ is a device that moves the story. It draws the reader to continue through the entire story. The donkey can be a person or a chapter, and in some cases your story can be divided into time periods.

2) Kebab

A ‘kebab’ is a story structure consisting of a lead, a nut graph, and followed by paragraphs supporting the argument or statement taken in the introduction. The best way to remember this is how a kebab looks like. It is made up of different chunks of meat, linked together by a wooden stick.

3) Orphan lead

Nixon also advised investigative journalist not to use an “orphan lead” in investigative journalism writing. He described this as a lead that explains a concept or a character only in the first paragraph. The rest of the story is then detached from this concept or character leaving it abandoned like an orphan.

4) Clear and concise language

“There is a belief that the way we use words to show people how smart we are by how your vocabulary is. However, they don’t care about all that. They just want the story,” explained Nixon. Investigative journalists are supposed to make things simple by writing plain and clear language.

While there are many more tips for great writing, Nixon says his investigative writing methods have proven to work throughout his career.

FEATURED IMAGE: Ron Nixon puts emphasis on the issues of simplicity when writing investigative journalistic stories at AIJC 2019. Photo: Lineo Leteba