A woman I met in a writing class was working on a book project. She had never done anything like it before, so she didn’t know how to go about researching her topic. “How do I find good, credible sources of information on the Internet?” she wondered.
Good question. The Internet, for all its accessibility to the information highway, has been known to play host to some faulty, inaccurate data, enough so that it has been the brunt of jokes. The fact is you can’t assume that what you read on the Internet is true, accurate, trustworthy, or worthy of being shared.
But fortunately for many of us writers, there are plenty of credible sources. You just have to know where to look for them and how to vet them. Here’s a list of sites I regularly seek out to find a credible source to interview or do background research.
* Trade associations, which cover industry news. For example, the National Association of Realtors covers the housing market, while the American Hospital Association obviously covers news about hospitals. If you don’t already have a contact there, reach out to the media relations department who can put you in touch with the best expert for your project.
* Government agencies collect data and conduct research about everything from energy consumption to employment statistics. If you need data to back up your research, agencies like the Internal Revenue Service and Federal Trade Commission will be strong bets.
* Universities often produce studies or have think tanks on-site. Professors with special expertise in certain topics or who are involved in research studies are good candidates for sources.
* Book authors often have specialized expertise. Check Amazon or Barnes and Noble for recent releases. Note the name of the author(s) and check out their website, if they have one. If they’ve written a book or published an article, they’re experts and they’re worth interviewing.
* Magazine, newsletter and website editors cover the topics of the day. They understand the issues facing their industry and are usually open to offering their perspective.
* Quoted experts in news articles. As you read articles on your topic, note the experts who are quoted in the story. What company or industry do they represent? What expertise do they have? Follow up with them via their website or connect with them through social media. If they’ve done one interview, they are likely willing to talk to you.
* Think Tank organizations and other research firms, such as Pew Research Center provide massive amounts of studies and data, and their researchers are often quoted in news stories.
* Not-for-profit organizations and foundations, such as American Heart Association, can provide a unique perspective. For example, the director of a silent film group can provide a historical perspective on the passing of a well-loved actress.
For most writing projects, I usually begin by contacting the media relations department. Describe your writing project and be specific as you can about what information you need. They will usually direct you to the right expert. If they don’t have someone available, ask if they can refer someone else. But be patient. It may take a few hours or days for them to get back to you. If time is a factor, make sure you tell them that you are working on a deadline.
Once you’ve collected your sources, don’t set up interviews right away, unless you’ve talked with them previously and know them well enough to contact them. You need to be sure they are legitimate sources for your story. A source that hasn’t been properly vetted can weaken an otherwise well-researched story.
If the information you find is too good to be true, or promises more than they can deliver, think twice before sharing it. Be sure to confirm the accuracy of one source by using a second, and possibly a third source.
Check the Better Business Bureau to determine if there are any complaints against the company or source. If there are, they may not be the best choice of expert to be interviewed.
Do a Google search of topics and individuals. You might be surprised what pops up. For example, enter HCG Diet in the search space, and the list will reveal both positive and negative reports, which suggest that the diet may not live up to the hype. On the other hand, by seeing both positive and negative responses, you may find sources who are willing to discuss opposing perspectives, which can make your story more well-rounded and credible.
In the long run, your story is only as good as the sources you use.