GUIDE – Tips on Developing an Audio Essay (TIB or StoryCorps Approaches)

NOTE: The tips below are from a calendar entry for my Fall 2013 sections of WRTG 3020, but they should be helpful to anyone planning to compose an audio essay.


By now you should’ve come up with a few examples of the kinds of “messages” you received about gender and/or sexual orientation through your own personal experience, through situations you found yourself in while in grade school or more recently.

As a reminder, what I mean by “situations” are specific experiences you had at any stage of your life that shaped what you believed then or what you believe now about gender and/or sexual orientation (such as what’s “normal”). By “specific experiences” I mean situations you can share with us by providing plenty of context: when was this? what were you doing? who were you with? what happened? how did the situation initially impact your views on gender? how about now, as you reflect back on it?

For the audio essay, I want everyone to reflect back over their own personal experiences to look for the same sorts of things you looked for in artifacts: examples of common messages you got about what’s “normal” for each gender, particularly those messages that were so subtle you hardly even noticed you were getting them.

For example, if a father grimaces every time his son talks about wanting to learn to cook but smiles and slaps him on the back any time the son even vaguely hints at an interest in wood working, that father is conveying a subtle but powerful message about what’s “normal” for men.

So the audio essay has two purposes:

  • to acquaint you with the basics of “writing for the ear” (instead of writing for the eye)
  • to help you start to recognize the subtler forces that have shaped your beliefs about gender and/or sexual orientation

Once you become more aware of how subtle the process of “gender norming” can be, you might then develop a multimedia project that exposes how this process works, to help others become aware of the process and find ways to resist it — or even to change ideas about what counts as “normal” for gender expression and sexual orientation.


Work on developing a draft for the approach you’re planning to take. The steps below will help you figure out how long your script should be in order for the final audio recording to stay under the limit.

You can compose your draft in a new document created within Google Drive (the easiest option), or you can compose it in Word or another text editor and upload it, but if you choose that option, be sure to convert it to Google Drive format. Scroll down for more details on both options.

TIB-style Radio Essay

Spend some time developing (i.e., writing and rewriting) a script you can follow as you tell us about situations from your personal experience that illustrate the subtle process of gender norming. A “script” might be something as simple as an outline or set of speaker’s notes or as complex as a fully written script, complete with “director’s notes” to remind you how to modify your voice in certain parts (such as when to speed up or slow down, what to emphasize, where to pause dramatically, and so on).

Your goal is to “write for the ear,” which means that the style you use for your script should be natural and conversational, so that we can’t even tell you’re following a script as we listen to your radio essay. Even if you choose to write out your full script, it should not resemble a traditional “essay,” given that people don’t usually talk the way they write in essays.

As you work on your script, go back and forth between writing and using what you’ve written to practice telling the story out loud (to a friend or by yourself), so you get a sense for how it sounds and also how long it’s going to take you to cover the script.

Good writing is almost always the product of taking too much material and revising it into something shorter (rather than the other way around), so don’t worry if your practice runs exceed the target length. But do plan to revise and rework your script until you can cover it in under two minutes.

StoryCorps-type Interview

Spend some time developing (i.e., writing and rewriting) a set of interview questions your interviewer can ask you that will prompt you to share the examples you came up with as you followed the topic brainstorming strategies for last Sunday and before class. You might start by coming up with a bunch of questions off the top of your head, but then imagine yourself answering these questions out loud, and you’ll quickly discover that some questions are better than others for producing a natural conversation.

Once you’ve narrowed down to a few questions, try drafting a script for your interviewer that includes a brief intro, the questions, and some kind of closing remarks. You’ll probably want to have the interviewer start by briefly introducing you, like you’d hear in a typical radio interview, and then very briefly describe the topic.

Something like: My name is Mary, and I’m here today with Cindy, a Journalism major at CU Boulder, to talk about how her personal experiences have shaped her beliefs about gender. So, Cindy, I’m curious: what is your earliest memory of learning how girls are supposed to behave? (and so on)

Once you have a working script for the interview, do a “practice run” (by yourself or with a friend), where you read the interviewer’s part and then try answering the questions off the top of your head — but out loud this time, rather than in your head.

You’ll find that it takes you close to twice as long to share your answers out loud than it did to think about them in your head, so this will give you a sense for how long your interview might last. It shouldn’t be longer than three minutes, total, so use that as a benchmark to help you decide which interviewer questions and/or which of your own examples to condense or cut.

By the time you’re ready to record your interview, you might want to have some “speaker’s notes” handy to remind you of the examples you want to share in response to the interview questions, so that you don’t stray too far off track.