There’s an old saying in the newsroom that goes something like this: “You’re only as good as your sources.” That’s actually very true. Think about it; if your sources aren’t good ones, your information within your article, essay, school report or book will be flawed.
- Find Good Sources of Information: Sources come in all shapes and sizes—from books to websites to actual interviews with experts.
a. Need experts to interview? Profnet.com is a great place to start. Unfortunately, this is only available to college students who are working on an article for publication. So, hang onto this resource if you plan to write for your future college newspaper. Even if you can’t use Profnet, you can still find experts to interview by scanning the internet. For example, go to amazon.com and see if anyone has written a recent book about your subject matter. Then see if the author has a website (they usually do) and email that expert, asking for an interview via email. Typically, experts are more open to responding at their own convenience via email. Also, I’ve heard that Helpareporter.com is more open to student inquiries.
RED FLAG: Be very specific and detailed when asking for information and be sure you tell your potential sources how you wish to be contacted—by email, by phone, etc.
QUICK TIP: Maintain good working relationships with past sources by sending clippings of the stories where they’re featured; always offer to read back their quotes if they’re nervous; and offer to promote their latest book/website/cause within your article or book whenever appropriate.
QUICK TIP #2: Take good notes and use a recording device when interviewing a source. Never just rely on your tape recording because technology can fail us at any given moment. Also, you must let your source know that you’re using a recording device to keep it legal.
QUICK TIP #3: Google the name of the source you’re using…just to be on the safe side. You want to make sure that your source is legit.
Use statistics and interesting factoids within your essay/report/article/book.
- The internet is a goldmine of information. By typing in a key phrase such as “average number of pets per home” into a search engine, you can find many articles that will give the exact statistics you need to strengthen your own writing.
- Startling statistics always make great sidebars and pull-out boxes.
RED FLAG: Just make sure you accurately attribute the statistics/information within your article or book. EXAMPLE: Dachshunds are the eighth most popular breed in the United States, according to the 2009 American Kennel Club statistics.
RED FLAG #2: Just because it is on the internet doesn’t mean it’s true. Get more than one source to support your conclusions.
Mine the goldmine of information you already have.
- Once you’ve written an article or a book, there is always extraneous information that you weren’t able to use, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t great info.
- That extraneous information might even launch you into a whole different article or book, so be thinking about what you can do with it.
QUICK TIP: Don’t waste any good quote, statistic or factoid. Create a folder of “extra stuff” to use in the future.
Good research takes time, so don’t wait until the last minute to begin the researching process.
- Allow yourself time to get pertinent and timely information—tracking down sources by phone can take persistence on your part. (People go on vacation, so don’t wait until the day your story is due to start calling that crucial source you need because that source may be on the beach somewhere, away from the phone.)
- Always try and get the most recent data available.
QUICK TIP: While books are great sources of information, magazine articles and websites usually offer more current information.
When possible, try and use various sources that offer balance to a story, and make sure you don’t do “one source” stories.
- Be a fair reporter/writer, offering research/info that falls on both sides of an issue.
- When interviewing someone about a touchy subject, be sure to record their responses and let them know what the other “side” is saying in response to your question.
QUICK TIP: Always end an interview by thanking that person and saying, “Is there anything else you’d like to share that I didn’t ask you?”
Networking with other writers and editors is a good way to gain new sources.
- Don’t limit your source database to the people you know…let the people you know introduce you to the people they know.
a. So, if you interview a fitness professional for an article about weight loss, why not ask that expert to hook you up with someone he/she has trained who has lost a great deal of weight?
QUICK TIP: Also, if you’re working on assignment for a magazine or newspaper, don’t be afraid to ask your assigning editor or publisher for source suggestions. They may have a few sources in mind, which will cut your work in half.
Some online sources that may help with your research:
- The Amazing Picture Machine [ Kids/Teens ] – Index to graphical resources and maps on the internet. Database of all types of images suitable for children.
- Bartleby.com [ Kids/Teens/Mature Teens ] – Search for famous quotes, classic literature, and nonfictional works. Site also includes dictionary, encyclopedia, and thesaurus.
- Ben’s Phaster Online Reference Desk [ Kids/Teens/Mature Teens ] – Reference search guide. Research portal covers biography, dictionary, encyclopedia, language translation, thesaurus, world and city maps
- Electronic Text Center [ Teens/Mature Teens ] – Online archive includes over 45,000 classic texts in 12 languages.
- eLook [ Kids/Teens/Mature Teens ] – Provides information on programming, computers, definitions, and literature.
- Emily Post: Rules of Etiquette [ Teens/Mature Teens ] – Guide to good manners includes thousands of tips on correspondence, party giving, and conduct in every public or private setting.
- English Library [ Teens/Mature Teens ] – Features links to biographies, literature, poetry, and foreign classics. Includes alphabetical index of authors, as well as dictionaries and other reference works.
- FactMonster [ Kids/Teens ] – Includes searchable information related to sports, entertainment, geography, history, biography, education, and health.
- Gary Price Fast Facts [ Kids/Teens ] – Compilation of quick reference resources, including almanacs, statistics, and fact books.
- Info Zone Research Skills Area [ Kids/Teens/Mature Teens ] – Exploration of the research process and links to related sites.
- Infonation [ Teens/Mature Teens ] – View and compare statistical data for countries that are a part of the United Nations. Find everything from land size to population, average temperature to crime rates.
- Inter-Lace Webtopics Directory: [ Kids/Teens/Mature Teens ] – This teacher-librarian designed website contains searching tips and a weblinks topic subject list for teachers and students. Contains a high percentage of Australian links.
- Martindale’s Reference Desk [ Teens/Mature Teens ] – Massive collection of links to reference resources includes language centers, calculators, maps, science tables and important websites of various countries.
- My Virtual Reference Desk [ Kids/Teens/Mature Teens ] – Links to a variety of resources including news, weather, sports, encyclopedias, facts on file, FAQs, and tutorials.
- NoodleQuest [ Kids/Teens/Mature Teens ] – Free service offers automated search engine strategy development.
- NoodleTools [ Mature Teens ] – A suite of interactive tools designed to aid students with their online research, from selecting a search engine and finding some relevant sources, to citing those sources.
- Research-It [ Teens/Mature Teens ] – Look up the meaning of a word, find out when a famous person lived, or identify a foreign language at this one-stop research center.
- TekMom’s Search Tools for Students [ Kids/Teens/Mature Teens ] – An easy-to-use, one-page reference desk for students. Includes kids’ search engines, encyclopedias, biographies, images, dictionaries, and maps.
- Time and Date [ Kids/Teens/Mature Teens ] – Lots of time and date related information, such as yearly and monthly calendars,
counters, countdown, and the world clock which shows the current time in cities all over the world.
Michelle Adams is a successful and award-winning author. She teaches at writers conferences across the country and shares her love of the written word with aspiring writers. Visit Michelle at www.michellemedlockadams.com