A: Next to cold, hard facts, experts play the most pivotal role in providing journalists with information. They hold knowledgeable opinions that can verify and validate information in the article to readers. And, while at times it may feel like experts are as hidden as Waldo, they really are easier to find than one might think.
Experts are everywhere—universities, doctor’s offices, Taco Bell. But, sometimes you have to do a little digging. Don’t be afraid to hop onto Google or Yahoo and search your topic, clicking on the top 15 to 20 links that come up and keeping an eye out for anyone who could fit your needs.
Another valuable tool is Profnet.com, which is a free service that connects journalists with sources. How it works: You propose your question and Profnet sends it to more than 14,000 experts, attempting to find people who know your subject. These folks are typically happy to help because it gives them more exposure.
Now, when approaching an expert, it’s important to be upfront with her. In any phone or e-mail conversation, immediately state your name, your association (“I’m a Boise-based freelance writer”), your topic and deadline (if you have one). Also, let the expert know that you may use quotes from the interview in your article. If you send an e-mail, let the person know that you want to accommodate her and are willing to conduct the interview however she prefers—e-mail, phone, fax, in person (if local).
Don’t be intimidated by the interviewing process. It’s much easier than it sounds. And, at worst, the expert says no and you move on—or place a curse on him. Not that I’ve ever done that …
Brian A. Klems is the online managing editor of Writer’s Digest magazine.
Have a question for me? Feel free to post it in the comments section below or e-mail me at WritersDig@fwpubs.com with “Q&Q” in the subject line. Come back each Tuesday as I try to give you more insight into the writing life.