5 Steps to Simplify Complex Topics

One of my college journalism teachers told me to write my stories so my grandmother could understand them. His point was that stories need to be written so that anyone can read and comprehend them.

dscf4270How do you write a complex story in a way that my grandmother (or yours) can understand?

Take a lot of notes when you interview your subject matter expert or source. Even if you don’t use all of them in the story, they will aid your comprehension.

Use Google to help with your understanding. If the person you interviewed used words and terms you don’t know, Google them. If it still doesn’t make sense, find a video that might explain the concept.

Distill the information. In other words, keep digging until you can boil the story down to a few key points. From that you can build your and the reader’s understanding by adding layers to the story.

Find the holes. As you build the story, identify any holes and find the missing information. You may have to call your source back or complete additional research.

Write to make people interested. Ultimately, you are telling a story. What is that first attracted you to the story? Why do you want to tell it? If you keep those questions top of mind as you research and write, you will interest others in reading the story.

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3 thoughts on “5 Steps to Simplify Complex Topics

  1. Jett, Catherine (Cathy) says:

    Great points! This is basically what I do every day. I attended an Education Writers Association conference once, and the discussion about the latest research in phonics went way over my head. I was surrounded by folks from publications like Kiplinger’s, but I mustered enough courage to ask if the speaker could explain things like he would to a PTA group. He did, and several other reporters thanked me afterward. Apparently they hadn’t understood him either.

    Cathy Jett
    Business editor
    The Free Lance-Star
    616 Amelia St.
    Fredericksburg, VA 22401
    540/374-5407

    • Sometimes it’s hard to be the one to admit you don’t understand something, but I often find that when I ask the question, others chime in that they didn’t understand either. Thanks for sharing your experiences.

  2. Gwen Larson says:

    In my very early days as a radio broadcast intern (as a senior in high school), I had a horrible interview with the country treasurer about changes in car tag renewals. My boss took over and later gave me this piece of advice: “Sometimes the best interviews come by playing dumb.” In this case, I understood the changes too well and wasn’t asking the simple questions.

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