For this assignment, you will read a research paper by a member of the Smith faculty and translate it into something that could be published in the popular press.

You should consider your audience for this piece– some ideas include readers of The Sophian or readers of The Valley Advocate, but it’s up to you. No matter the venue you target, your piece should be written for a general audience.

As part of this assignment, you will interview the faculty member associated with the research. I would like you to take no more than 30 minutes of their time, so you should do some planning beforehand. What questions will you ask? Who will ask what? How will you deal with followup questions? How will you record quotes? (On paper, with a recording device, etc. Make sure to ask if it’s okay to record!)

It may be useful to “write the paper first,” or start a draft of your piece before interviewing the faculty member. This can help you structure your interview to flesh out aspects of the work you didn’t understand, or to add some human interest to the story.

It’s okay to broaden your piece to cover the faculty member and/or their research group as part of the reporting. You can ask them why they were interested in the particular topic, how they got started working on it, or where the research has gone since (or is going). However, I would like you to do your best to report on the statistical or data-driven aspects of the research publication. What statistical methods did they use? What significance did they find?


As always, you need to have a headline, byline, lede and/or nutgraph, and kicker. Please include the word count at the bottom of the piece. I would like it to be 1,000-1,500 words.

Emailing the faculty member

I would suggest using a format along these lines:

Dear Professor [such and such],

We are students in Amelia McNamara’s SDS 236 course, Data Journalism. We are working on a story related to your paper [paper title], and would like to ask you some questions. Can we set up a time to meet and interview you? We’d like to find a 30 minute block that works for all of us. How about

If none of those work, please let us know some times that might be convenient for you. We’d love to meet in your lab or office, just tell us where to go.

Thank you,

[your names]