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Monday, March 14, 2011

Five Fast, Easy Ways to Find Experts

I'm often asked about finding sources for articles and books (and it's smart to suggest experts in your query letter). So for today's post, let's take a look at how you identify and find potential sources for your work.

First off, you have to decide who you'll interview for the story. Perhaps your background research has uncovered potential sources in other newspaper, magazine, or medical journal articles. In other cases, you'll start from scratch. There are a number of efficient ways to find qualified experts, and the methods you use may depend on the topic and nature of the expertise you seek.

Look to the Big Book
Today, it's easy to Google for potential sources. But don't forget about an old-fashioned method that works. Check out the monster three-volume Encyclopedia of Associations, which will be found on reserve at your local library and contains more than 20,000 U.S.-based organizations that cover everything from medicine to gardening to hobbies to sports to charity groups.

Use the index to locate the appropriate subject, and read through the descriptions of the organizations listed to find one that meets your needs. (When there are several to choose from, I usually start with the largest or most well-established.) Then call the association (calling usually provides a quicker turn-around than emailing), and ask for the media affairs or public relations department. Explain that you're a freelancer working on a story on fill-in-the-blank and would like his or her help hooking you up with a member of the organization who can help you.

The organization's PR person can suggest appropriate members, and may often offer people you would not have thought of otherwise. If you prefer an expert with certain qualifications, like affiliation with a major university or significant media experience, tell the PR person. He'll be able to provide you with names and contact information of experts who will fit the bill.

The Ivory Tower
Depending on the type of story you're doing, you may consider calling on a college or university as well. Take the same approach that you would with an organization; ask for the public affairs or media relations department and ask for referrals to an appropriate faculty member to interview.

The Expert Among Us
Another easy way to find experts is to look for books on the subject—preferably recent ones. Book authors actually seek out publicity—the more often they're interviewed, the more frequently their books are mentioned. Check and either track down the author through a search engine or call the publisher and ask for the public relations department. Someone there will be happy to hook you up with the author for an interview. (By the way, in these days of POD publishing, where anyone can publish a book, I tend to stick with traditionally-published books.)

Online Options
There are also several online resources you can use to locate experts, including Profnet. One advantage to Profnet is that you can search its extensive database of experts by subject matter specialty or keyword. You can also submit a query that's sent to PR agencies, universities, hospitals, associations, and experts, and choose how you'd like to receive responses—i.e., via phone or email.

Another popular resource for freelancers is HARO ("Help a Reporter Out"), which lets you submit a query that's sent to more than 100,000 potential sources. Again, you can choose how you'd like to be contacted.

There you are--five easy ways to find experts for stories. If you're new to freelancing, you'll find hundreds of more resources for subject-specific experts in Ready, Aim, Specialize! Create your own Writing Specialty and Make More Money, second edition (Kindle edition).


  1. Thanks, Kelly. I just recently needed this info. Now I have it for the next go round.

  2. I need this too. I've gotten stuck in a rut not knowing where to find sources. This is such a big help! Thank you!

  3. Yea! Thanks for these great sources--I've used a few of these, but the new ones open my horizons.