When writing nonfiction articles, it’s imperative that you sprinkle those articles with quotes from experts or whoever the focal point of your interview is. It’s always great when you’re interviewing someone and that person blurts out an amazing quote, which you know right away will fit into your article perfectly. Other times, you may struggle to pull together a satisfactory quote or two that supports your facts. Although you’ll always need to include some direct quotes in your story, there are times when using indirect quotes, or a paraphrase, of what your expert said is just as good, if not better than the direct quotes.

But how do you know when to use one over the other? There are no hard and fast rules, really, but some general guidelines do exist that can help you make that call.

1. Obviously, if you must use a person’s exact words to maintain accuracy of  facts, you’ll need direct quotes. You won’t want to paraphrase a statement that is important enough to get you in trouble for misquoting it or implying something that’s not factual.

2. If you have subject matter that lends itself to the use of highly technical terms, jargon, or acronyms, it’s best to use indirect quotes where you can serve as a translator. If you’ve ever heard a military briefing, you know exactly what I’m talking about. Direct quotes with such jargon would only bring confusion–and boredom!

3. If your interviewee tends to be on the wordy side and has added way too much extraneous information, it’s probably best to paraphrase and summarize that person’s story using indirect quotes. Sometimes you can get away with using partial quotes and omitting parts of their direct quote with ellipses, but you never want to overdo this. It doesn’t take long for partial quotes to become choppy, and you’ll lose the flow of your writing. Here, it’s best to summarize the gist of what that person is saying, and maybe add one or two direct quotes for effect.

4. If you want to capture the subject’s personality and emotions, go with direct quotes. It’s in the quotes that a person’s dialect, cliches, phrasing, and other nuances that really make a subject come alive will be found. Using indirect quotes can never capture the “flavor” and emotion of a person the way direct quotes can.

5.  If you want to interject your own comments or opinion of what your subject just said, or if you need to compare the statements of two or more people you’ve interviewed, it’s best to use indirect quotes. Your writing will flow better and be more clear if you can put such a situation into your own words.

There’s definitely a time and place for both direct and indirect quotes, and there’s nothing set in stone to dictate when you must use one over the other. Sometimes it’s helpful to try it both ways and see which one works best. You’ll probably know as soon as you read it whether the information should use direct or indirect quotes. Keep in mind that it’s important to have a balance of both in your story. Use too many direct quotes and the reader may lose sight of who’s actually writing the article! Too few direct quotes and your story will read too much like a narrative.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on how you decide what to use when.

Advertisements

Thank you to Darlene Franklin for taking time from her busy, busy schedule to join me on my blog  (April 8 and 12) for a brief interview. God has really guided her through a lot and set her on a wonderful writing journey!

Today, I’m going to finish with the final installment of my three-part post on primary sources. So far I’ve talked about historical sources and how to locate them, offering a lot of resources and links to turn to for help. Now, let’s switch to contemporary sources, namely experts, and discover how to find them so they can be interviewed.

If you truly need an expert to bring solid facts to your story or article, there are several ways you can find one.

• Search out professional or trade organizations or associations related to the field you need to research. A good source for this is the Encyclopedia of Associations. Once you locate an organization you think may be helpful, call or email them and ask if you could speak to an expert or person of authority on your particular subject. Larger organizations typically have identified people who are willing to do interviews, so they may have people ready for you.

• Contact colleges and universities. First, check with local colleges to find professors  teaching on your subject, that way you can possibly interview them in person. If not, look at larger universities’ course listings for undergrad, graduate, and adult classes. Contact the school to find out how to reach the professor if there’s no contact name listed with the course.

• If your topic deals with products, manufacturing, or business, try public relations departments at corporations. Keep in mind that the companies may be biased toward their own products, but if you’re strictly looking for facts, this could be a good place to turn for experts. And, if it means some PR for the company, you may find executives willing to grant you an interview.

Network with who you know. Ask around with your friends, people at church, your co-workers, etc. Tell them what you need and who you need to talk you, and they just may know of someone. Or, they may know someone who knows someone! Also, when you do find an expert to interview, ask that person for a referral. People tend to be well networked within their own field, so it’s always worth asking for referrals.

• Research book sources, to help you start your expert search. One is called Dial-an-Expert: the National Directory of Quotable Experts, which comes out annually. Another is Who’s Who, which lists professionals in all lines of work and their contact information.

• Use the Internet. The internet is an easy way to search for and target companies or organizations in the field of your subject.  There are many websites geared to helping you find experts. One of the most popular is  ProfNet. Profnet started as a resource specifically for journalists but has since opened up to anyone who needs an expert. Once on the site, you’re allowed to ask questions that are then directed to experts in that particular field, who email you back. You can search by category and country.

A similar website is called All Experts. Here you can search by category and previously asked questions. Another is HumanSearch. The way this site works is that you search their database for questions they’ve already answered, to make sure yours hasn’t been asked before. If your question’s not there, you submit one and it is searched out. You get your answered emailed back to you in the form of websites to go to as well as direct answers.

While you can find general experts at these sites, with a broad knowledge in business, writing, politics, law, and other fields, there are sites that are more specific to a certain niche. Media Resource, for example, is strictly science related. You may also have some luck with a general internet search if you put in “expert+subject” in the keyword search.

Yet one more way to utilize the internet for finding experts is to join forums, groups, listserves, or blogs where your experts may hang out. If you need to research hot air balloons, for instance, search “hot air balloon forums or blogs” and see which ones look like there’s people on there who know what they’re talking about. You can always post to them, and ask members to help you locate an expert in hot air ballooning.

Have fun searching for experts! Next week we’ll learn how to interview them once we find them.