Last week, I was juggling several different articles for two different employee publications. One somewhat daunting piece started off with three interviews, four people to quote and three pages of notes. I had 1,500 words to boil down into 500, a process I like to call spinning straw into gold.

If you’re faced with a similar task, you might find my method helpful:

  1. Save or print out a copy of the raw notes before getting to work. Then, if the client later requests more detail in a certain area or has a question, you can easily respond.
  2. Now, save a second version that you will cut and paste. Find the best comment/most interesting statement/piece of information most critical to know and put it first. Build your lead around this.
  3. Organize the comments. If several people have talked about the same thing, move the comments to a common “holding pen” section. Identify who said what with initials or first name at the beginning of the line.
  4. If you’re struggling with the lead, warm up elsewhere by condensing comments from what are often rambling sentences into a concise statement. (Sometimes I simply write “Clever comment here,” and move on to the rest.) When you’re ready, go back to the lead.
  5. Once you’ve got a rough draft together, let it sit –– overnight if possible. Reread it in the morning with fresh eyes.

Success! Following these five steps, I was able to send off the final draft at just over 500 words.

Do you have any other tips for turning your notes into stories?

Image: “Keattikorn” and