Chapter 5 of 30 from Shonda Rhimes

Researching Your Story


Effective research can make your story come to life. Using case studies from Scandal and Grey's Anatomy, Shonda discusses her techniques and method for conducting research for her stories.

Topics include: Talking to Subjects • Taking Notes • Case Study: Researching Grey's Anatomy • Judy Smith and Scandal

Effective research can make your story come to life. Using case studies from Scandal and Grey's Anatomy, Shonda discusses her techniques and method for conducting research for her stories.

Topics include: Talking to Subjects • Taking Notes • Case Study: Researching Grey's Anatomy • Judy Smith and Scandal

Shonda Rhimes

Shonda Rhimes Teaches Writing for Television

In 6+ hours of video lessons, Shonda teaches you her playbook for writing and creating hit television.

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Make Great Television

When Shonda Rhimes pitched Grey’s Anatomy she got so nervous she had to start over. Twice. Since then, she has created and produced TV’s biggest hits. In her class, Shonda teaches you how to create compelling characters, write a pilot, pitch your idea, and stand out in the writers’ room. You’ll also get original pilot scripts, pitch notes, and series bibles from her shows. Welcome to Shondaland.

Watch, listen, and learn as Shonda teaches you how to write, pitch, and create a hit TV show.

A downloadable workbook accompanies the class with lesson recaps and supplemental materials.

Upload videos to get feedback from the class. Shonda will also respond to select student questions.


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

To be more confident in my writing. Thank you, Masterclass. And thank you Shonda!

Very informative and inspirational. I will highly recommend this to my friends.

I feel like I have a better grasp at outlining. The way Shonda explained it clicked with me! Thanks!!

This was an engaging and well organised course. I learned a lot from Shonda, and her enthusiasm will stay with me.


Wenna P.

Her voice doesn't jive with me, its very nasal and monotone and I have a hard time taking in her lessons. Very unfortunate.

Denise J.

Was anybody able to download the pdf for Ch. 5? Researching your story??? I am getting code instead.....

Karmen S.

This could not have come at a better time. So much great information. And I am a Sorkin fan as well.

Ciera S.

I could just scream !!!! All this info is so good and so necessary. Feels like my head is going to explode in the best possible way. I'm loving the case studies and how in-depth she goes into sharing how she develops the small makeups of the characters lives. It's so cool to hear how she realized that she couldn't really look up Judy Smith. The realness she brought to Olivia's character is so detailed and authentic. I can't wait to go back and rewatch the episodes to both Grey's Anatomy and Scandal to further dissect the characters. Especially after hearing the behind the scenes mental development and the research it took to create them. Again all great info. So happy I decided to invest in this masterclass.


"Medical, Medical." That's awesome. That is so good to know that I don't have to become a subject matter expert once I'm on board a show. :)


"Nothing has to be perfect...just write." Something every writer needs to hear!

Waikinya C.

@Shonda: How do we manage writing stories about your personal lived experiences with other people?

Donna S.

I took a lot of notes listening to Shonda! Lots of good information on doing research. I like how she pointed out that it's better to just listen to someone talk about what they do. Listening is the best kind of research. I prefer to take notes as I listen, but depending on the person and the information they have, I might feel better recording them, too, as long as they gave me permission to do so. That way I would feel like the information would be correct and I could go back and play certain sections over if I needed to. Trying to remember all the info and getting notes down afterwards would make me nervous because I would worry if I forgot something. Medical terminology would be more difficult for me to remember, for example, so that might be a conversation I would record or at least check the info before I left. I also liked that she said she loves to use the old-fashioned library. I love being able to "Google" something, but also love the library.

Ayah A.

I hope there's something in this course about what happens AFTER you get get a story out of your system, and transitioning to the next one.

Ayah A.

I love that she points out that it's not really that important to ask a list of questions. Just by listening to your subjects you learn from them. If they are adjacent to the world of your story, they also will show you inside that world and how they want others to perceive their world. They might share something unexpected that could be even more inspiring--, but that said, it shouldn't be taken. I'm glad she drew attention to the fact that you have to respect other people's stories. There's a difference between being inspired and appropriating someone else's experience. I've encountered that all too often.


I am a firm believer in research when you're doing your pilot to tell an authentic story. And it depends. I mean, there are stories where doing a ton of research is really necessary, and there are stories where doing a very small amount of research is all that you need. But, it just depends on what kind of story you're telling. You have to really be clear on what kind of story you're telling, and be OK with your level of authenticity. I'm a big fan of the good, old-fashioned library, which, many people are not, but I absolutely love it. Books will tell you everything you need to know about what a profession is like. One of the things I want to say about doing research, that I think is very important, read all the books. Read every book. Find books. Read them. Do not steal people's work. It's an unwitting thing that can sometimes happen. You don't really even realize that you're doing it, but really be careful that when you're reading books and doing your research, that you didn't find one book and take that one book, and use it as all of your source material for something. You really want to understand that you are looking for how a job is done, and not how someone did their job. It's a fine line, but I think it's important, because unless you're going to buy their rights-- the way we did with Judy Smith-- you really want to make sure that you're being respectful of the fact that somebody else has an experience that is their own. The same way you wouldn't want somebody to suddenly take your story and make a show out of it, and then tell you, "Too bad, I kind of just was inspired", you want to make sure that you're being respectful of everybody else's stories, as well. [MUSIC PLAYING] I think researching a project is really specific to what the project is. Researching medicine-- surgery-- is very different than researching, say, what Judy Smith does-- you know, the inspiration for Scandal. Being a lawyer is very different than being a shrink, like the doctors were on Private Practice. So, sometimes, it's just about talking to somebody who does the job, or who's lived the life, which is really interesting. On Gray's, I did everything from talk to actual surgical residents. I talked to actual surgeons who performed certain surgeries. I talked to patients about what their lives were like. There are resources you can call up. There is a media place for people who are doing health stuff. You can call up the Television Academy, and ask a couple of questions, and see where they'll send you to. There are places that you can call, and, frankly-- honestly-- sometimes, if you just picked up the phone and, for instance, called the doctor's office and asked a bunch of questions, they'd probably be happy to help. It's very interesting how many people are happy to help you when you say, "I'm writing a television pilot"-- oddly enough-- just to give you...