Writers Need Sources

Whether you’re writing fiction or nonfiction, you’ll need content. Since you can’t know everything about everything, you’ll need to rely on sources to help you get that content.

You might start your research by reading books, articles, blogs, emails, or other printed material. However, your most interesting (and useful) information will come from people.

So, how do you find the people you should interview? They’re everywhere, but it’s up to you to be judicious in deciding who you’ll trust as a source. Colleagues, co-workers, neighbors, friends, family, fellow members of organizations are all possibilities. You might even locate an expert by researching directories of professions, associations, and universities.

What should you do when you find someone you’d like to interview? Try emailing them. Try phoning them. Try making an appointment to see them.

Remember that you’re looking for first-hand information, experiences, and anecdotes based on education, work, interests, hobbies, or even some event a source witnessed. The main thing is your source must be willing to share, or you won’t be able to use the information in your writing.

When I was writing articles, I recorded all of my interviews. I always told the source that I was recording the interview and I was doing it to assure I got the information and any quotes accurate–a protection for both the source and for me.

Speaking of quotes, be aware readers don’t particularly like to read a lot of direct quotes from sources. Use your writing skills and paraphrase, but make sure your paraphrase is accurate.

Other cautions to be aware of are:

  • Verify the credentials of your expert. Sometimes people aren’t as they project themselves, but it’s your credibility (as writer) that’s at risk if you haven’t checked out your source.
  • Appreciate the sources offering time and information, but avoid promising to use the information (you’ll want to verify its accuracy if you can before using it).
  • Be careful about sharing the overall gist (favorable or unfavorable to a specific viewpoint) of the book/article. You may change your mind as you learn more about your subject matter. If asked specifically about the viewpoint, simply say the book will reflect the information you get during your research.
  • Keep any promises you do make to the source. If you offer to send a copy of your book (or article), make sure you do just that.

Finding and working with sources can be some of the most fun you’ll have as a writer. FInd a topic that interests you. FInd people who can help you learn more about it. Enjoy the journey. Happy writing!

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