Tips for Article Source Success

Monday, October 05, 2015
It's one thing to research and outline an article idea and pitch it to an editor--but finding the appropriate sources to complete the piece once you've landed the assignment can be a different story. Over the years, through much trial and error, I've learned a thing or two about finding the perfect experts and anecdotal material necessary for turning in a polished article. Here are some tips to help you do the same.

Dig Deep to Find the Right Sources is a great resource to find experts on any number of subjects, as is Peter Shankman’s “Help a Reporter Out” (HARO) service. Search in your subject heading and see if you can find any recently published non-fiction books whose authors might make great experts. Keep contact information for every source you interview (and make a note of whether you had a positive or negative experience) so you can contact these subjects for any future articles where they could be a good fit. You can also find specific experts and research for your related topic by contacting the communications departments of places such as the American Cancer Society or Autism Speaks.

Always Double Check Quotes and Obtain Permission from Article Sources.
When you conduct an e-mail or phone interview, always double check your source is okay with her personal information and anecdotes going into print. Send your source any quotes you plan to use (not necessarily the whole article) from the interview for verification and clarification and keep all e-mail correspondence. Sources do sometimes have a change of heart, later, and may tell your editor they no longer wish to be quoted. You may need to have evidence to back yourself up.

Don’t Wait Until the Last Minute to Find Experts and Anecdotes.
Always find two to three more sources than you’ll actually need for the article. Once, I had planned to interview an obstetrician-gynecologist for an article and she had to cancel at the last minute. The public relations agency she worked with provided me with another source, in a time zone three hours behind me. I stayed up late the night before the article was due to interview the source on the phone, only to find out she really didn’t think my article topic had merit and refused to give me any pertinent information. I hadn’t lined up enough sources to cover off that bomb of an interview and struggled to complete the piece on time.

Make Sure the Source is a Good Fit For Your Subject Matter.
When a source or public relations firm contacts you, make sure they have the proper expertise to act as an expert source and aren’t just promoting their latest book, blog, or website. For example, a personal trainer with an exercise blog may not be the best expert for an article on children’s nutrition. I find experts who will include facts, anecdotes and research in their initial correspondence with you particularly promising. Over the years, I’ve learned how to comb through “dud” sources and spot which experts and anecdotal subjects will be the best fit for my articles.

What tips do you have for finding the right sources to interview for assignments? Please share in the comments below!

Renee Roberson is an award-winning writer and editor who also works as a Blog Tour Manager for WOW! Women on Writing. Her work has appeared in magazines such as Charlotte Parent, Lake Norman Currents, The Charlotte Observer, The Writer and more. When she’s not working on client projects, she enjoys spending time with her family and writing young adult and middle grade fiction. Visit her website at


Sioux Roslawski said...

Renee--I am so far from being a true freelancer as is possible, but if I was... your post would be quite helpful.

Cathy C. Hall said...

Excellent tips, Renee!

I love using museum folks as references. I've found that people who work at museums--from BIG ones to small, hole-in-the-wall specialty museums--love talking about their area of expertise.

P.S. It's amazing all the museums that are out there. I had a question about a fan--the old, oscillating types--and yep, there's a Museum of Fans. The gentleman was a little freaked out by my question--it was a horror story involving a pretty gruesome fan mishap--but he was very happy to answer all my questions! :-)

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