Most investigations usually begin with a tip from a source, or simply a hunch, that something is amiss. Perhaps you have noticed a series of events that suggest a pattern or trend that deserves a closer look.
Based on that suspicion/tip, along with some preliminary research, you will form a hypothesis (e.g. a statement of what you think is actually happening). This will be the focus of your investigation: trying to prove if the statement is true or not. Remember, good investigative reporters are always open to the possibility of disproof. Your research and legwork are designed to determine how significant the lead is and what it means to the public. There may still be a good story even if your hypothesis is disproved.
Once you have gathered some initial documentation, you must prepare your "case" and bring it to your editor to convince him or her you have a story. Even in this early stage you must be prepared to answer your editor's questions and concerns about pursuing the lead. For example, the editor will want to know the amount of time you may need away from your regular beat, costs for travel and research, and whether you will need the help of other reporters.
The editor may also express concerns about the feasibility and potential dangers of doing the story:
• Will you be able to obtain the documents and sources you need to prove your hypothesis?
• Do you have solid sources? Will they go on record?
• Can you handle the possibility of threat of violence against you, your family and the media house?
• What about economic pressure on you or your family? If your family is offered a bribe to talk you off the story, will you be able to stand firm? There may even be economic pressures on your media house if advertisers pull their ads in response to your investigation.
Your editor may also be up against pressures to turn down your story. You may want to try a different editor that you know will be more supportive.