Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Finding Sources Online

One of the biggest challenges for a writer is to find sources to help you in your research. If you write nonfiction, you need expert sources to provide you with quotes and additional information that can round out the info you already plan to include. And if you write fiction, you may want to craft a story that includes something you know nothing about. Good sources are invaluable to any writer. So how do you find these know-it-alls (or knows-something-about)? It's as easy as a click of the mouse--or even looking right under your nose.

  • Friends and family. Your grandpa has always whittled and made his own furniture. It's so much a part of your life, you barely notice it anymore. But what if you suddenly find yourself writing a story on early American furniture making, and you need to include information on caning chairs? Did you ever think of your grandpa? I bet you didn't. But your family and friends all have interests and areas of expertise, and would probably be happy to sit down with you and explain the basics. Most people love to talk about what they do and the things they feel strongly about--all you have to do is ask!

  • Social networking sites. Time to use your Facebook account for something besides taking the quiz "Which chemical compound are you?" You're working on a story about a chef and you want to include some "behind the scenes" information about the inner workings of a restaurant's kitchen. Why not comb your Friends lists and get in touch with your friend's friend, who is a chef in a big city eatery? Or post a general bulletin about needing sources for an article on a particular topic--you're bound to know someone (or one of your friends knows someone) who can help you with your article.

  • Authors' websites. I've done this a few times. I like to include at least one author in most of my queries. If I don't have a book on that topic, I'll simply do a search and come up with a few titles. Then I'll track down the author (most well-known writers have websites) and email them directly, asking if they'd be willing to be interviewed. Sometimes you have to go through their publisher, but I've never had an author turn down an interview request. (P.S. Sometimes they'll send you a free copy of their book, too!)

  • ProfNet. If you want to broaden your search for experts, this is one of the most useful sites that I've seen. You need to have an account with the site (it's free to join), and once you have that set up, you simply go down the list of questions that will help you find exactly the kind of experts you're looking for. Even with the most outlandish request, I've never gotten less than 5 responses. The "query" reaches professionals of all kinds--you simply choose the sort of folks you want. If you're doing a story on adult learners, you may want to interview adult educators, career counselors, or life coaches. But the option is there to reach bloggers, publicists, activists, and other professionals. This is a particularly useful site if you live in an area with limited options for expert sources, depending on your topic.

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