Good writing rarely happens spontaneously, even for the best writers. Of course, journalists often write great stories on deadline, but those daily stories tend to take a “just-the-facts” approach to storytelling. In fact, many stories take weeks, even months of research, writing and editing. Regardless, a good story almost always starts with a clear articulation of a central topic. If you can’t focus your story, chances are it isn’t a story yet. The same is true for information graphics.
Finding the focus may involve a number of activities including reading what’s already been written on a topic, viewing information graphics on similar topics and interviewing expert sources or significant individuals that can help you better understand the nature of a story. Since you will rarely be an expert in the topics you are covering, you should star each project focused on learning everything you can to effectively explain and visualize the story.
This chapter focuses on the graphics research process, as well as some of the more specialized writing styles required for the text portions of an information graphic. We will learn from Washington Post Graphics Report Bonnie Berkowitz on he philosophy when conducting research.
Sifting through the rubble: In the information age, finding sources on just about every topic imaginable is generally pretty easy. However, whether they are print, electronic, or human sources, finding the most up-to-date, accurate and credible references should always be your first priority. It is important to understand the strengths and weaknesses of digital, print and human sources. This will help you decided where to direct your efforts.
Developing a source list: A seasoned graphics reporter keeps a thorough list of sources that grows with each new project. Developing expert contacts that you can rely on can pave the way for shortcuts to answers for future questions. Your list should include a variety of sources from print, to electronic, to human. If you frequently report on the same kinds of stories, it may also be useful to organize your sources by topic. It is also import to own the most recent almanac and world atlas, as well as a list of topic-specific reference books.
Writing graphics: Determining the appropriate writing style for a graphic really depends on the tone and context of the story. Diagrams or simple charts and maps for new stories often call for a more serious, straightforward approach. Alternatively, lighter feature graphics can sometimes take a more informal tone. Different types of graphics may also contain different levels of information. For example, small x-marks-the-spot locator maps rarely need headlines or introductory text while detailed maps and diagram may include longer explainers, as well as additional callouts or labels.