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Business, Politics & Society

Writing the Story

Bob Woodward

Lesson time 8:57 min

After all your investigative work and research, ultimately you have to write your story. Here, Bob shares strategies for turning what you've uncovered into a compelling piece of journalism.

Bob Woodward
Teaches Investigative Journalism
In 24 lessons, learn how to uncover the truth from the greatest journalist of our time.
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One of the things you'll find about writing if you have the information, if you really have done the reporting and have your outline, it's a joy. One of the things I do and have done in 18 books, just out of habit and kind of discipline, I've read 10 pages a day during the writing phase. Sometimes that takes four hours. Unfortunately, sometimes it takes 16 hours. And I always discipline myself. OK, you've got to get those 10 pages done on the days when you only have to work four hours. It is not about, for me anyway, some muse or some inspiration. It is the information. After you report and talk to people and they have a sense of what the story is, write what I would call a premature draft-- not anything that is going to be published or broadcast, but a summary of what you know at midpoint. It's a very simple, and in a way obvious, process. But lots of people kind of choke up. Oh, I want to have everything. I'm not clear what the lead is, the first paragraph. Oh, I have not questioned the fourth person who was involved in this. Get some of it down. The guiding light always is what's interesting, what's clear, what's new. Also, the psychology of writing is so important. When you have something down, even if you're only semi-satisfied with it, you're going to sleep better that night. I frequently talk about the rule of six, which means that there are about six things in every story-- not necessarily the first six paragraphs, but the six things that are important, including the lead. Now, sometimes it's only four. Sometimes it's 10. But you want to list those. And then write it out. And it provides you a guide for where the holes are. The saying is-- well, how did it write? And sometimes, you'll get in a position where it looks like-- oh, it's going to be complicated, or it's not going to work. And then you get it out on paper in some form, and it works. Or you may think that it's going to be brilliant and you're already ready, and it kind of collapses or its weaknesses are quite evident. Another aspect of this is for anyone, even a very fluid writer-- talk the story out to somebody. Most people are naturally oral. And if you just sit down and say-- OK, this is what I've got. These are the six elements or the four or whatever that they are, it's astonishing how you can sit down with somebody. It does not have to be a journalist. It can be anyone. And say, hey, this is where I am. Let's spend a few minutes, and let me sketch out-- it's kind of like a pencil outline that is eventually going to become a full painting-- what I've got. Ask me what you think the important questions are. And then you can say to whoever your superior is, or even the ultimate editor, this is where we are on this story. It's like if you're going out on a ship at sea, you take bearings. We're halfway there, or we're 10 mile...

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 loved this class! I've been a journalist for 15 years but wasn't trained in the profession and it helped me fill in the cracks of my knowledge.

Great insight into life as an investigative journalist as well as his biggest stories. Enjoyed it.

Super fascinating... was totally riveted from beginning to end. Loved it!

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.


Ken G.

Bob does have a very calm demeanor that lends itself to putting people at ease. Love the pearls of wisdom gained from years in the trenches. However i would like to see him address the conflicts that arise from journalists doing stories that compromise sponsors of the news organizations-- its advertisers. Rod Serling often wrote scripts that were quashed because the network's sponsors did not like the themes. Essentially advertisers, even when they are the bad guys, can control the 'truth' that is reported... or NOT reported

Ann S.

When writing non-fiction, you are always looking for the story in all the investigative work and research, and pre-planning usually helps us get clarity even if we have to change it when a better story comes out of it. Bob Woodward is coming forth with fabulous tips from his long and excellent experience in journalism. In my opinion, because I was asked. this is the best college-level course you can get. And from the best teacher.

A fellow student

I also used to write about 10 pages again until my material got "released" (hacked) to most of the world. I'm now more computer savvy, but it discouraged me from writing for almost a year. Now I'm back to writing my 10 pages every day late at night when all is quiet and there is no chaos going on around me. I now like writing outdoors on our newly painted patio at midnight. No interruptions and I tend to concentrate better late at night. Too busy during the day to write. I have about 100 journals I've written over the years. But I must do a draft which I haven't really done. And lots of re-writing and not be so quick to publish my work even though people are pushing me to hurry and finish. Very dangerous.

A fellow student

I have always tried to present non-fiction in the least number of words With fiction I enjoy playing with words. I have no intention of publishing either one. I intend for my next class to be one in writing. At my age learning as more a matter of curiosity.

Michael O.

There's an intimacy in the way he speaks, the way he teaches, that makes me feel as though he is talking directly to me - kind of like a fireside chat with an old friend. This style combined with the copious and superb class materials, make for a satisfying and invigorating learning experience. I am so grateful to have "stumbled" into this MasterClass. Pilamaya.

Geri S.

Research has always been my strong suit. Putting it together coherently is the big challenge. I always have much more information than I can possibly use, so part of my challenge is figuring out which pieces are right for the story. I really like his suggestion of writing the premature draft. Talking it out is another excellent way to try and get a handle of the topic.

Val M.

I'm so grateful for the practical tips that he drops along the way. Write 10 pages a day. Look for 6 things that you can essentially hang onto. These are wonderful tips for someone who isn't even reporting, but is writing a non-fiction account.

Sean V.

When in the process of writing an article, do you start with writing the lede or with the background paragraphs? Does it vary from article to article? Does a lede flow natural from the background info or vice versa?


Structure is the key. And drafts, regardless of their contents, can propel you forward giving you cohesion for your story. This is an excellent lesson. Thank you Bob.

Sunny N.

I think of this module as the structure lesson. Roughing the plans for the way the house wil look, and polishing those plans to build a solid structure.