This week I’ve been experimenting with writing styles in order to find the right voice for upcoming data stories, so I thought I would provide some insight into the process. In terms of writing, voice is not a one-size-fits-all treatment; each project is a custom job with new considerations. Ideally, voice is the intersection where style meets function. With this in mind, I’m putting some potentials to the test to find the best fit for the project at hand.
As I piece together the storylines from interview transcripts, I try to keep two things at the forefront of my mind: the instructive purpose of the stories, and the audience that will ultimately be reading them. To make a data story work as a learning and reference tool, what we might call the “lesson” must remain intact. What does each story teach? What nugget of wisdom does it have to offer? The first priority is making sure that this comes through in the final draft.
And if we want to make sure as many data-dealing people as possible read that final draft, it’s critical that we reach readers in a way that is entertaining and emotionally engaging. So how can we package data so that it plays on a shared experience and pulls at the heartstrings? I think the key here is harnessing the passion evident in each of the completed interviews. Keeping in mind that these interviews chronicle the successes and downfalls of the data world, we might concede that most do not contain the drama and high-octane suspense of the latest crime novel or network TV show. Nonetheless, these accounts do have the energy and emotional power of the story straight from the storyteller. Each interview is personal and works on a level that invites along data scientists that may have found themselves in similar situations. They are relatable on a level that most readers would identify with and (hopefully) find entertaining. I think incorporating this into the stories is simply a matter of dealing with the interviews respectfully and honestly. By sticking to the flow of the original story and preserving some of the interviewee’s voice, we can rest assured that the stories will do exactly what we want them to – interest, caution, and, of course, inspire!