If you’ve been following my posts you should be a primary source finding expert by now! But once you find your sources in the way of experts, what do you do with them? Today, I’ll talk about how to interview your experts to bring legitimacy and flair to your story.

If you’re able to contact the interviewee directly it can help to email or write ahead of time and maybe even send a sample of your work so they can see your writing. I think having confidence when you approach someone and making them feel that they will really help add value to your story, will go along way to having them agree to the interview.

Many people believe that unless you’re doing a piece on the person you’re interviewing, you probably don’t need to meet them because you’re only interested in facts and not details about the person that you could only get from observing them. I’ve done all three types of interviews (in person, phone, and email), and I prefer in-person because I think you can come away with a depth that you may not get otherwise. But sometimes, in-person is not feasible, or the person may not be willing to do it.

The second best method is a phone interview because it’s more conversational than email and it helps you to ask additional questions or qualify answers immediately instead of going back and forth emailing each other.

Email can have its advantages though. Sometimes, that may be the only way you can contact someone, especially if they’re a big name. And, your response time of getting questions answered may be much quicker than if you have to wait to set up a phone interview. Also, if you just need something quick from someone to back up research or provide a short quote, email can be the best way to go.

If you do decide to conduct a phone interview, you may choose to use a recording device so you don’t have to take frantic notes. This can also work for an in-person interview. If you do, be sure to ask permission first before heading into the interview. Also, test your recorder before you start just to make sure it’s in working order.

Once you know you can contact the person and have decided on how you will conduct the interview, prepare as well as possible by learning all you can about your interviewee and their field. This will help you to be more confident and develop better questions. Then, create a list of questions you need to have answered. You may want to number them based on priority in case your interview gets cut short. Spend some time practicing actually asking the questions. It’s your job to make the interviewee feel as comfortable as possible and to want to give you information, so make sure you’re not coming across as an interrogator. Your interview should be as conversational as possible.

In the interview, start with the basics of the correct spelling of their name and job title. Do that right away before you forget. Then ask a couple general questions just to get things rolling. This will also help you see what kind of interviewer the person is. Make sure your main questions are specific enough to get the detailed information you need. And keep in mind that not everyone is a good interviewee so there will be times where you’ll have to do some teeth pulling to get your information. You may also want to have some follow-up questions, asked from a different angle, prepared in case your first attempt doesn’t get you very far.

Some, however, love to ramble on and on, especially about themselves. If this is the case, your job will be to keep the interview focused and to learn how to politely transition from one question to another.  You should be doing most of the listening while your interviewee does most of the talking.

Make sure your interview doesn’t come off like a bunch of rapid-fire questions. Let the person’s response help create your next question. Allowing the person to share additional information aside from just answering your question usually ends up giving you your most valuable information. After the question has been sufficiently answered, pick another question from your list that seems to flow well with what you have just discussed. This will also help keep the conversation moving smoothly.

When you’re wrapping up the interview, don’t forget to ask for referrals. Chances are the person will know other people you can talk to, and now you’ll have a name to use to get to that person. And ask if you could get a mailing address where you might send the person a thank-you card. And be sure to do so!

I love to hear from anyone regarding funny interview stories or maybe interviews gone bad if you’d like to share!


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.

In my last post, I discussed what primary sources are, how they differ from secondary sources, why writers need them, and then gave some examples of both historical and contemporary primary sources. Now, I’d like to talk about how to find some of these elusive sources. First, I’ll start with historical sources, then when I continue with this series, I’ll look at how to find contemporary sources.

When it comes to finding most historical primary sources,  your options will include        digging through a good library for archives, diary or letter collections,  and speech indexes,  using online government or other public document sites, or physically tracking down historical societies, national archives, or museums that have what you need. There are various ways to attack each of these.

While at the library (preferably a university library), search for your subject along with “dairies,” “correspondence” (for letters and such), or “speeches.” You will end up with collections based on era, event, or person, among other potential categories. Also, look through the archive collections for any newspapers, magazines, or old interviews. And, don’t forget to look at secondary sources, such as books, encyclopedias, or biographical dictionaries where you can gather primary sources from the author’s bibliographies or notes.

If you want to conduct most of your searching online, one good place to start is GALE research, which has hundreds of databases on just about any topic imaginable. If you’re looking for newspapers that give firsthand accounts of events or people, there are some internet sites that, for a fee, will let you view scanned newspapers. Some sites offer a free trial period before you have to subscribe. One site is Classic Newspapers. Another is Newspaper Archive. Both of these have a vast collection of historical newspapers.

A primary source you may need is photographs. To keep your costs down, try to go to museums or historical societies, which will be cheaper than commercial sites to copy an image. If you do need to use a commercial site, a couple good ones to check out are Picture History and Smithsonian Images, both of which have a nice collection of historical images.

There are several government sites which are particularly useful for finding primary sources. One is the Library of Congress, which has numerous divisions online for searching just about anything. Other good sources include firstgov, which contains information for local, state, and federal governments for a variety of topics, as well as listings for government libraries and contact information for government officials. Another site is archives.gov. This site lists national archives centers throughout the U.S., and you can view copies of U.S. historical documents right from their website.

A final online source I highly recommend is called “100 Terrific Sites to Find Primary Source History Documents.” This site has links to all of the major U.S. libraries, museums, art history storehouses, birth and death records, newspapers, various government sites, and lots more. This is an excellent starting place for primary sources.

Even after all of your library and online searching, however, you may find that you still need to actually visit some locations to get the original sources you need. Before you go, there are some great directories out there that can help  guide you in the right direction.

If you need to visit a museum, a couple helpful books are the “Official Museum Directory,” which is exactly what it sounds like. This book lists thousands of museums and discusses what’s in them, how to contact them, what publications they put out, and so forth. A similar book is called “Museums of the World.”

If you’re looking for historical organizations or associations, there are books on that subject, such as the “Directory of Historical Organizations in the U.S.,” and the “American History Sourcebook.” The sourcebook lists places all over the country, like museums, universities, archives, and so forth, where you can find all kinds of primary sources.

For searching for government documents or organizations, you can start with the “U.S. Gov’t Manual,” which lists various government departments along with their contact information and what exactly the department does. You can also find out about government websites with a book called “U.S. Gov’t on the Web.”

If your library doesn’t have the books or directories you’re looking for, search online at Bookfinder. Or, if you don’t know exactly what book you need, look at the “Subject Guide to Books in Print” and that will help you narrow your search.

Well, that’s enough searching for one day! When I continue this series post, I’ll discuss how to find contemporary searches, such as looking for experts to interview.

Check back on Thursday when I will post part 1 of my interview with “cozy” mystery and historical fiction writer Darlene Franklin. I guarantee you Darlene has used some of these avenues before when searching for her primary sources!

Whether you write fiction or nonfiction, for children or for adults, at some point, you will find yourself having to locate primary sources for your writing.  So what exactly are primary sources, why do you need them, and,  most importantly, how do you find them? The first part of this two-part post will focus on what they are and why you need them. Next Monday, I’ll offer some tips on how to locate them.

Primary sources, or original sources, as they are sometimes called, are firsthand, original, unedited, and uninterpreted works. They are created by the people directly involved in whatever the event was.  So if you’re looking for a primary source from the Civil War, you’ll need information from someone who was actually there.

These primary sources can take the form of personal letters, journals, or diaries, manuscripts, speeches, autobiographies, newspaper or magazine articles, art work, photographs, poems, films, interviews, or firsthand observations–just to name a few.

Primary sources differ from secondary sources in that, while secondary sources may also take the form of newspaper or magazine articles, as well as encyclopedias, books, or websites, secondary sources are just that—they’re secondary. These sources comment on, analyze, interpret, or summarize primary sources.

For example, an artist’s painting would be a primary source, but an article critiquing that painting would be a secondary source. An autobiography of Henry Ford would be a primary source, but a website discussing that autobiography would be a secondary source.

Both types of sources can be helpful toward your research, but primary sources will provide you with the most accurate information possible. What could be more accurate  than using a direct  quote from the person you’re writing about to share their firsthand observation on something, or getting solid information from an expert on the topic you’re writing about, instead of an opinion of what someone else thinks about it?

There are both historical primary sources and  contemporary primary sources. When you’re writing about history, be it nonfiction or fiction, you’ll want to look for two kinds of information: the factual history of the time and place of what you’re writing about, and the lifestyle of the people in that era. Or, of course, if you’re writing a biography, you’ll want all the details you can find about that specific person.

Some examples of the types of historical sources you may be looking for include: personal diaries or letters, art work or music from the era you’re writing about, legislation from that era, photographs, direct quotes (which can be found in speeches or interviews), autobiographies, or any type of original record.

In regards to contemporary primary sources, some may be the same as historical, such as newspapers, personal letters, speeches, or even government sites and records. In the case of sources like speeches and newspapers,  contemporary sources will be easier to find because there are more options available, especially when it comes to searching online. But there are some sources that will strictly be used for contemporary research. These include living experts, firsthand observations, surveys, and many internet-based sources.

Primary sources, whether historical or contemporary, are an important  part of your writing as they add the necessary factual details to make your fictional stories come alive, or to give you credibility as a nonfiction writer. If you write historical fiction, for instance, you’ll want to know what a typical family living in the 1700s might eat for dinner–and how they’d cook it. Or, if you’re writing about current cancer treatments, you’re going to want to interview experts in the medical field. In both cases, you’ll need to research primary,  or original sources to get the information you need.

Be sure to check back next Monday as I’ll go through the process of finding original documents and current experts and share some great resources to help you in your search!