Writers and editors frequently need to find experts who can speak authoritatively on the subject of an article. Journalists who specialize in a given field soon accumulate a list of go-to gurus, but generalists don’t have that advantage.
Probably the first thing you try will be a direct online search. You may strike gold—especially in the sources cited by sites such as Wikipedia—or you may be overwhelmed with irrelevant sites. And even after refining your search, the results may still be ambiguous or less than solid.
Here are some suggestions for narrowing your search:
• Ask your editor for suggestions about experts.
• Run a search for other articles on the topic to see who’s been consulted previously, or, even better, experts who write on the topic.
• Blogs can be a good source of leads to experts. Similarly, Twitter may help you find people who post regularly on a given topic.
• Contact relevant professional or trade associations. The organization itself may include highly knowledgeable individuals, or they can direct you to members who are versed in the subject. Suite 101 also recommends consulting universities, whose faculty may be knowledgeable or can direct you to colleagues who can help.
• Websites such as Help A Reporter Out and Media Bistro serve as a crossroads for writers seeking information and public relations professionals and businesses eager to supply it. The Adventurous Writer recommends Prof.net as a source of professional experts.
• JournalismNet describes itself as “a free web site with over 600 pages … designed to bring you an investigative guide to the Internet – the best tools, tricks and websites from around the world.”
• Friends and colleagues may be able to help—writers and editors minds are attics where all sorts of odd facts lie waiting to be discovered.
Once you have a list of experts, take time to check them out online to see what others have said about them, such as possible biases. You may still use an expert with a known slant, but you will be able to include that as a caveat to your readers.