Soliciting Story Ideas

When soliciting story ideas from your department chair/faculty, it helps to suggest the types of stories you are looking for.  A simple list can sometimes jog peoples’ memories. For example, you might specify that you’re interested in stories about:

  • New courses and/or noteworthy existing courses
  • Upcoming events
  • Recently published books
  • Faculty or student research
  • Outreach projects involving the community—this could be part of a class assignment, or something not directly related to a class
  • A student who has done a particularly interesting project/assignment during a study abroad program
  • Alumni doing interesting work


Potential questions for different types of stories

I’ve jotted down some general questions that I might ask when I’m preparing a story.  If I have background information about the individual’s work ahead of time, I also try to ask questions specific to that work.

For article about faculty research:

  • How would you describe your research to someone outside the discipline?
  • Is this an offshoot of previous research or a totally new area? If the former, what led to these new questions? If the latter, how did you come to this topic?
  • What intrigues you most about this subject?
  • What has been the most challenging aspect of this research?
  • Have there been any surprises along the way? Any assumptions you had that have been proven wrong?
  • What would you most like others to know about this subject?

For article about newly published book:

Pretty much the same questions as above, although additional questions might be:

  • What research was involved in writing this book?
  • Who do you see as the intended audience?
  • Are there questions raised in the book that you are planning to explore further?
  • What is the primary message/information that you hope readers take away from the book?

For article about a new course:

  • What led you to come up with the idea for this course?
  • How would you describe the course to someone outside the discipline?
  • What were your primary (learning) goals in planning the course?
  • Who is the intended audience? Majors?  Any student? Any thoughts on the crossdisciplinary potential for this course?
  • What research/preparation was required? Were there any particular challenges due to the course content?
  • What would you hope students take away from this class?

For article about a faculty award:

  • What is the award and how are recipients selected?
  • What does this sort of recognition mean to you personally and professionally?
  • If the award was in recognition of research accomplishments or is a book award, you could use some of the research/book questions noted above, including:
    • How would you describe your research to someone outside the discipline?
    • What intrigues you most about this subject?
    • What would you most like others to know about this subject?
    • If the research was for teaching, community service, etc, ask a question specific to that activity (ie, how did you become involved with X project? or, why has it been important to you to devote time to X?)

For article about a student award:

  • What does this sort of recognition mean to you (ie, boosting your confidence, helping relieve financial strain if there is a monetary award involved,etc)?
  • What led you to major in X?  What aspects of the discipline intrigue you the most?
  • What has been your most memorable experience in the department (could be a course, or research, or study abroad, or getting to know faculty/staff, etc)?
  • What skills do you feel you’ve gained through this major, and how do you hope to use them in the future?
  • If the student is a senior: What’s next for you?

For an article about an alumnus:

For alumni stories, you really should formulate questions that are specific to the individual and his/her work, but you can start with:

  • Why did you choose to major in X?
  • What was your first job out of college, and how did you get from there to your current job?
  • Why does this particular career appeal to you? In what ways does it challenge you?
  • What do you wish you had known when you started in this field? Are there misconceptions about this work?
  • How do you feel that skills gained in X Department—and at the UW in general--have helped you succeed? Are there any professors in the department who were particularly influential in your development?
  • What advice would you give to current students who are about to enter the workforce?


Nancy Joseph, Director of Publications, UW College of Arts & Sciences