Where Do Writers Find Experts?

Q: I’ve read many articles in your magazine and others that advise freelance magazine writers to use quotes from experts on their given subject, but none of the articles tell writers how to go about doing that. Where do writers find experts? How do you approach them? How do you obtain permission to use quotes? This can be intimidating for a new writer. —Theresa Fort

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.

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7 thoughts on “Where Do Writers Find Experts?

  1. Stavrosrougas

    I’m a journalist turned co-founder of a startup called expertisefinder.com – a search engine for journalists to find experts.

    It’s another fast and free resources to find sources to interview.

    It’s what I wanted as a journalist. Would be great if you help spread the word about Expertise Finder (expertisefinder.com).

  2. Rich Cook

    LinkedIn is a great place to access all kinds of experts. You can post questions on any subject and people will answer. It’s a great way to get general and expert opinions on all kinds of subjects.

  3. Leigh Ann Hubbard

    Brian, I love your ProfNet advice. I use it all the time. It’s awesome and definitely the best place I’ve personally found.

    I would like to add: Keep in mind that large nonprofits, industry organizations, government organizations, universities, etc., often have media departments. If you’re looking for an expert who might be affiliated with something like that, try to find the org’s media room or press room online. (That can be easier said than done.) Sometimes, they have a "media" link on their site. Sometimes, you can Google their name and "newsroom" or something. And sometimes you just have to call their main line and ask.

    Joan’s right. (And she has an awesome free newsletter, by the way. I have no connection to her.) Experts (or at least their publicists) generally love to be contacted. It’s free publicity for them!

    As an editor, I love it when my writers find good experts who really know what they’re talking about to quote. It adds interest and breaks up the piece a bit.

    Good luck. Brian: Thanks for another interesting post.

  4. Joan Stewart, The PublicityHound

    I forgot to mention that experts LOVE being contacted by freelance writers.

    I’m a publicity expert, and I preach constantly that forming relationships with freelancers is very valuable. That’s because freelancers write for a wide variety of publications.

    If a freelancer finds that you’re a great source for the story she’s writing for one of the inflight magazines, she might also be able to use you for the story she’s writing for The Washington Post. And so on.

  5. Joan Stewart, The PublicityHound

    The best place to find experts is at Expertclick: The Online Yearbook of Experts. It’s at Expertclick.com. Use the search box to search for experts by topic, or you can also type in a name.

    You needn’t be intimidated by approaching experts. Experts LOVE being contacted for their opinions, or to provide background or to verify information. All you need to do is email them with the subject line "May I interview you?" and I’m betting you’ll get a response quickly.


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