Expert Express: How to Find and Leverage Experts When Writing Articles

Quotes from voices of authority can lend credibility and depth when writing articles. Learn how enhance your freelance writing by incorporating expert input.
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Quotes from voices of authority can lend credibility and depth when writing articles. Learn how enhance your freelance writing by incorporating expert input.

For every article I write I consult five to 15 experts—depending on length, type and complexity of topic. Including voices of authority on a subject allows me to formulate the contours of a piece by describing, summarizing, predicting, interpreting and breaking down thorny topics. Unlike other forms of research, experts are available for interaction—I can ask questions and seek clarification.

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3 Types of Experts to Consult When Writing Articles

To identify these subject specialists, I search relevant leading publications, associations, prominent blogs and books. The more technical the article, the more experts I try to engage. Those I seek generally fall into three main categories:

The Respected Authority (a person who has convincing credentials or publication credits)

The Position Holder (an officer, CEO, board member, government official, etc.)

The Representative Voice (a person whose voice embodies a particular segment relevant to the article)

As an example, for an article on club volunteering, I contacted:

  • the author of a book on volunteering,
  • a Member Services specialist,
  • a leadership professional,
  • two organization presidents,
  • a non-profit executive director,
  • a publisher,
  • an exhibit coordinator,
  • and writers of different generations.

The top three bullets acted as Authorities, the next two served as Position Holders and the final three as Representative Voices. Each one covered unique aspects, resulting in an article in which all points converged.

[Pitching Articles: 5 Tips for a Successful Freelance Writing Pitch]

How to Approach Experts

I usually approach experts as follows: “I’m working on a short article for [insert publication]. How would you characterize three emerging trends in [insert subject]?” Most are pleased to be asked. If I get a positive response, I’ll continue the dialogue and promise to let them know if I use their quote.

 This article is excerpted from Susan Shapiro's new book, The Byline Bible: Get Published in Five Weeks.

This article is excerpted from Susan Shapiro's new book, The Byline Bible: Get Published in Five Weeks.

Incorporating Expert Advice

When drafting my article, I pair experts’ words with premises I plan to convey, piecing the narrative together like a puzzle. Experts act to validate, illustrate, debunk or lead a reader toward ideas using experience, insight and wisdom. Often, I re-contact experts with additional questions, ultimately using the quotes that best drive the concepts forward.

Depending on the demographic I’m writing for, I’ll seek experts from various geographical locations, entities large and small, and will include an occasional divergent point of view. I regularly employ my most intriguing quotes in the first and the last paragraphs.

Trimming such quotes can be challenging—even painful. To avoid long citations from a single expert, I seek out the kernels. If I have excess applicable material that doesn’t fit within the body of the article, I may package that information into a complementary section or sidebar, to be added if space permits (e.g., “Tales from Three Marketers” or “Tips and Comments from Attendees”).

Once I decide which quotes to use, I tell the quotee, “I’d like to use the following …” and email the paragraph containing that quote. Although it’s not a requirement to run quotes by experts, with complex or technical material it’s often helpful to ensure I’ve understood the quote accurately and that it’s in the proper context. At that time, I also confirm name spelling and title. Seldom do I share the entire article with them until after publication, when I’ll email them the link for use on their websites or in company newsletters.

Other Kinds of Experts

A word on the “non-expert expert”—the witness, the bystander, the consumer, the friend or relative—which is quite useful in some instances. For a piece I wrote on a beloved swim coach, I sought recollections from former students who expressed how the coach taught them as children: an educator told how the coach’s technique was effective; a gold medalist described the coach’s influence; his wife gave endearing, amusing anecdotes that no one else could (or dared).

Though not experts in the traditional sense, these folks were still authorities on the article’s subject—the esteemed swim coach—and their experience lent the piece an important inside look. Consider the topic and overall trajectory of the story you intend to write, and seek out the sort of experts who will add dimension to the piece in ways you couldn’t have managed simply from researching online.

Learn more in this upcoming online course: How to Write an Article

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In online lectures, supplemental readings, video clips, and written assignments and exercises, we’ll talk about ­how to source, prioritize and develop topic ideas; compose and refine pitches to multiple outlets; stay tightly organized about submissions, follow-ups and correspondence; and execute assignments brilliantly – as well as why writers who query well, deliver on time and prove easy to work are gold to editors everywhere. Learn more and register.

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