Twenty top tips that should make you a better journalist

Assumptions: Never assume. Always help out other journalists as they may help you out later (Duncan Campbell).

Buttonholing: A way to get access to government ministers, business or sports people is to check out events they may attend in their local area. A reporter who goes to a local fete may be rewarded with a few moments with the ­target politician (Jim Aughney).

Contacts: Write down the phone number and email address of every person you meet both privately and professionally and, a brief description of who they are (Yvonne Roberts).

Doorstepping: Try not to come across as a sleazy journalist and just be as civil and ­normal as possible (Oliver Hardy).

Facts: Get the facts in the right order and give them to the reader (David Todd).

Family politics: One should never, ever, attack politicians through their families, even tangentially (Simon Hoggart).

Freedom of Information: FoI investigations take time to come to fruition, so build them in around your other work. Ask relevant questions of people you are interviewing for other stories and, before you know it, you'll have much of the legwork done before you know it (Heather Brooke).

Infrastructure: Shorthand. And imagination (Nick Davies).

Internet: Nothing beats telephone or face-to-face contact but phoning people in Oz on your own expenses is no fun. I often find that a lot of people (yes, PRs, I mean you) annoyingly want you to email your request anyway. Get a good flat-rate broadband deal and totally exploit it. I spend ages doing internet research before I phone anyone (Helen Campbell).

Intros: Make sure intros set the piece up sufficiently in news terms, rather than being too general (David Rochester).

Length: Keep it short (Bill Keiller).

Libraries: It's worth remembering in this age of the internet what a great resource a good library can be. Looking up recent academic and specialist journals that the British Library in London has on open shelves could give leads. Letters to specialist magazines can provide hints about controversies within specific fields. I once got a story out of a letter to the Times Literary Supplement complaining about access to anthropological archives ( John Davies).

Lunches: Lunches with PR people are a waste of my time (Richard Willsher).

Numbers: Ask for numbers and facts. Use them to add authenticity to a report rather than saying 'many'or 'few'(Brendan Nolan).

Patience: Confronted by someone obstreperous, or even frightening, exercise patience rather than wading straight in. Let them make all the points they want to make before you put the questions you want to ask (Phil Thomas).

Press conferences: If you think it's going to be an interesting press conference, try to get down the front. You stand a chance of overhearing off-microphone interchanges. You may even get to buttonhole someone for a quick and exclusive interview (Phil Sutcliffe).

Press releases: Ring and ask for clarification of a press release. Listen for an exclusive quote in the answer. Write it in (Brendan Nolan).

Quotes: Use lots of direct quotations – and use them early. Letting someone tell their own story brings it to life at a stroke (Neil Graham).

Sources: Get in with local union contacts – they're a great source of stories. Pensioner groups are good, too.

Travel writing: If I'm going to be in a city for a number of days, I try to find a hotel that I can call home. I find it psychologically uplifting (Martha Ellen Zenfell).

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