From Bob Woodward's MasterClass

Polishing the Story

From deciding what details to include to evaluating word choice, Bob provides advice on how to fine-tune your news story once your initial draft is complete.

Topics include: Details Establish Credibility • Be Specific • Use Active Verbs • Avoid Absolutes • Catch Your Mistakes • Print Physical Copies for Editing


From deciding what details to include to evaluating word choice, Bob provides advice on how to fine-tune your news story once your initial draft is complete.

Topics include: Details Establish Credibility • Be Specific • Use Active Verbs • Avoid Absolutes • Catch Your Mistakes • Print Physical Copies for Editing

Bob Woodward

Teaches Investigative Journalism

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I want to gather as much detail as possible, in the case of CIA Director Bill Casey. In one memo, I described how it was winter, and he put on his overcoat, and he got the buttons I think misaligned. And he looked like his mother had dressed him, and he didn't know how to wear an overcoat. And there was just a kind of-- visually it was striking that here was the CIA director, who didn't know how to put on his overcoat. I include it because it sets the scene. And it, again, is this trust issue. I was there, or I have a source, or I have a document, and I want to take you to that moment as best I can as a reporter or author. One of my habits-- and sometimes this gets cut out-- but I like to say it was Wednesday, November 4, 2007-- or whenever something occurred-- to tell people in time what it was. And immediately you know you're not talking about 1952 or last year. You're talking about a specific time frame. And it anchors you and it can anchor a reader. Some reporters in their writing will say one Wednesday in April 1984. Well, immediately I think, well, one Wednesday. Was it the third or was it the 10th? Why not be specific, if you can? When you can't be specific-- particularly in this era of distrust of the media-- the more concrete you can be, the more, hey, I know which Wednesday it was I think really helps broaden the credibility of what you are presenting. Confession-- active verbs are really important, but I'm not naturally drawn to them. Let me get myself in trouble for a moment here. The first sentence of All the President's Men is about how I was awakened by a call from the city editor saying there had been a burglary at the Watergate office building of the Democratic National Committee. And I don't remember exactly how I said it, but it was kind of Woodward awoke. And it was Carl Bernstein's girlfriend at the time, Nora Ephron, who read this and had rewrote it or suggested and said Woodward snapped awake. And that was her verb. And we all looked at it and say, yes, that's exactly what happens when the phone rings. You snap awake. You don't just awaken. And that's an example of an active verb instead of a very flat awakened. If you say never then somebody is going to find one time that it happened. So it's better to say-- it's an unfortunate phrase-- almost never or say it in a way where it gives you some wiggle room if you're not sure. And on lots of things, you're not sure. You will find people you're interviewing or quoting will say never. That's fine, but check it. Again, it's one of those words when somebody says absolutely never, pause and check. And also ask the question, is it necessary to phrase it that way? There are lots of stupid mistakes in the newspaper. And one of the best reporters at the Post used to make simple mistakes by saying a senator from Maryland was a Democrat when he was a Rep...

Find the real story

Bob Woodward was just 29 when he changed a nation. His Watergate reporting with Carl Bernstein helped expose the corruption of the Nixon presidency. Two Pulitzer Prizes and nineteen best-selling books later, the legendary journalist is teaching his first-ever online class for anyone who wants to find the truth. Learn to investigate a story, interview sources, and understand how the news is written. The next history-making story might be yours.


Students give MasterClass an average rating of 4.7 out of 5 stars.

I have much more respect for his journalism after this class. I believe I can trust his opinions and stories, though agree with his mother's comment.

I almost have to keep shaking myself to remember the impact this man has had, not just in his profession, but in the world. He is a mild-spoken, giant-toppling defender of the public trust. Not only does he share his experience with finding and following the story, a large portion is spent on how to effectively interact with sources. I'm inspired and outfitted. Wonderful course.

Brilliant words from Bob Woodward. I am enjoying this!

understanding what journalism means, but still very complicated on a small level as Woodward has met with presidents and CIA directors. Still don't know what it means to be a day to day reporter...


A fellow student

Me too. I only write my materical in my large over-sized purple notebook. yes lots of repeat stories but it's a kind of therapy for me, not the reader. However, when it comes time to entertain my readers the REAL VICKIE RUBINSON's humor comes out. In fact I'm thinking of starting a new blog called "The Barefoot Writer." (Get it?_ From the famous flick "The Barefoot Contessa" which starred the late great singer Maria Callus if I'm correct. I'll be known by my brightly colored jogging pants, bright top and no tennis shoes sitting on my front porch. I have tons of funny diplomatic and political mishaps to share with the world but none of it is insulting or will cause any problems or controversy. Example; the last time I was in Boca Raton Florida (rather rich area where stars hang out) I rented a boat and glided by Saudi Sheik al Fassi's mansion which at the time was full of 200 feral cats, much to his neighbor's chagrin. True story. Cats roaming everywhere on his property. Had the time of my life and no alligators either! AL Fassi was the famous Saudi sheik who lived herre in LA on Sunset Blvd and he put up these gaudy naked female statues on his front lawn and drew in the female "parts" for extra extertainment. Neighbors weren't happy to say the least but I thought it was wise and hysterical. Don't know if Al Fassi stil lives in Florida though. It was so long ago.

Geri S.

Print it out! Yes. I always print out my work, go into another room, pen at the ready and read. I found a lot of issues with my hard copy that I most surely would miss otherwise. Every time I do this it reinforces how important it is to always print out copy.

Geri S.

When I wrote my nonfiction book, "Taking Aim at the President: The Remarkable Story of the Woman Who Shot at Gerald Ford." Macmillan (St. Martin's Press) picked it up. I was assigned a senior editor to work with me in editing the book for them. The constant question I got from her was "How do you know this?" Fortunately, I had copies notes, details, and had all my sources. Knowing this was not enough. I had to show it in my work.

mark L.

Great note about specifics. And I'm a big fan of not just printing the manuscript but -- since this lesson is about polishing - reading it out loud.

Condor R.

Ah intelligence, integrity, thoughtfulness, precision of thought... precision.... editing, fact-checking, holding one's self to a high standard. And decency, above all decency. And yes, too graciousness. Dignity. these are the lessons I take from Mr. Woodward. Sir, I thank you.

book E.

Ah! So now you address a burning question. The Final Days 1. Page 103, you write: "The President ... downed a quick Scotch in the Yellow Oval Room, ..." How do you know this? a. That it was Scotch? b. Where he drank it? 2. Page 110, you write: "St. Clair ... sat in a comfortable green chair ..." = How do you know this? a. It was comfortable and, b. that it was green? 3. Page 151, Jaworski ordered a car for himself and his assistants to travel to the White House. You write: "Expecting a big black sedan, ... the driver showed up at the wheel of a small tan compact. ... The four men piled out like clowns from a tiny circus car..." = How can you know that? Is that statement imagination? How much license do authors have in a non-fiction book?

Sunny N.

Thank you, Bob, for reminding me to print a copy for review. And really old school, which I will remember to do in this digital age, is to read my work out loud, first, to myself and, if there is time, to someone else. I just read this little note out loud and discovered punctuation that needed attention. Thanks again!

Christian S.

The course has educated me in how not to leave comments in an op-ed style. I need another style (ha). The content is superb, the presenter is the top in his field, the content is well organized and thoughtfully delivered.