One of the benefits of being a nonfiction writer with a “beat,” meaning a specific area of coverage, is that you tend to make contacts and stay in touch during the year looking for potential story ideas.
What about those of us who aren’t on a specific beat? Or, perhaps, those of us who are hoping to branch out to other topics of interest or maybe we are just getting started? Where should we go for more voices?
I asked my editor and longtime friend Carin for her 3 best tips for looking for sources and here are her suggestions:
1. Go to sources you know and see who they recommend.
2. Do your online research.
3. Read other stories about a similar subject.
I think No. 1 is pretty relatable. Find someone you know who may know someone else, who may know someone who fits your topic. In other words: Network. This is true for most things in life and certainly true in writing. (BTW, this does not mean you can use your best friend’s personal story for your gain!)
Online research is a bit more complicated in this day and age of anyone can blog and be an “expert” on anything. Here are some of my criteria when I am looking for an expert or for resources:
- Are they affiliated with a verifiable reseach institute or university?
- What qualifications make them an expert? Have they written a book on the specific topic? Do they run a major organization or nonprofit dealing with the issue you are covering?
- If they seem too good to be true, and you can’t verify their background and find someone to vouch for them, move on.
Read others stories. I do this all the time. It’s called research and background information. I want to hear what someone else had to say on the topic I am working on. Sometimes, this will help me see an angle that I didn’t think about before or clarify a point I may be misunderstanding.
However, let me be very clear on this point, all of my reporting is my own. I do not use what was in other people’s stories unless I am crediting them directly. If I know that Mr. Z is interviewed for a story on the new street sign, I’ll try and track down Mrs. P and get her take.
Reading others’ stories just helps you get a handle on what might be there, it also might lead you to take your story in a different direction as you strive to be as original in your reporting and writing as possible.