Interviewing Sources and Experts for Articles – Tips for Freelance Writers

For freelance writers, experts and sources can make or break a magazine article — or even a query letter to editors! These tips for freelancers will improve your chances of getting published…

But first, a quip:

“A fact is like a sack – it won’t stand up if it’s empty. To make it stand up, first you have to put in  all the reasons and feelings that caused it in the first place.”  ~ Italian dramatist Luigi Pirandello.

To bring your articles to life, you have to add spice…and your spice comes from your experts’ opinions and sources’ stories! To be a better freelance writer, read Writer’s Digest Handbook of Magazine Article Writing. And remember: anecdotes — real people’s stories — are crucial to writing a gripping article.

And, here are a few tips on interviewing experts and other sources by phone, in person, or via email for that juicy feature article.

Interviewing Sources and Experts for Articles – Tips for Freelance Writers

The Benefits of Email Interviews

As busy a freelance writer, I love email interviews because:

  • They’re efficient, effective, and easy.
  • The expert writes the exact words, which means there’s rarely room for misunderstanding or misinterpreting information.
  • I can interview far more experts via email than in person or over the phone, because email is so fast.
  • I discover far more possibilities because I have more time and energy.

It’s appropriate for writers to interview experts via email when:

1. The info you require isn’t deep or complicated. If you only need a few (less than 10, say) straightforward questions answered, then an email interview should be sufficient for freelance writers. Many round up articles are perfectly suited for email interviews.

2. You’re conducting an opinion poll or survey of experts. The simple “yes or no” , “true or false”, or “choose A, B, or C” questions rarely require telephone calls or visits to experts. You can survey many, many more experts via email than telephone.

3. Your expert is in Bora Bora without telephone access. In most cases, editors won’t pick up the tab for a flight to Bora Bora – but of course it depends on your experience, the subject matter, and the expert. However, my point is that sometimes you simply can’t interview any other way.

When is it NOT appropriate to interview via email?

Interviewing an expert in person can be tough, especially if you don’t connect with him or her, can’t find a mutually satisfactory time to meet, or if your recording device fails. However, in-person interviews gives you a much more accurate sense of the person, which is especially helpful if you’re working on a profile.

It’s inappropriate for freelance writers to interview experts via email when:

1. You’re writing a profile. If you’re interviewing Stephen King or JK Rowling for their writing tips, then you’ll need to do an in-person interview. You want to include their nuances, style, facial expressions, and environment in your article or book.

2. You need in-depth, complicated information that requires explanations or even visits to certain places. For instance, the freelance writer who wrote about New York’s Bellevue Hospital would need to visit the actual site.

3. The expert digs her heels in. Some experts I’ve approached for my articles said they’d prefer telephone interviews, not email. In all cases, I’ve moved on to the next expert. Though I have conducted both in-person and telephone interviews, I really prefer the convenience of email – especially because I love writing roundups. They rarely require the personal touch.

4. You’re writing an exposé. If you’re a freelance writer or columnist exposing the next Richard Nixon or Jim Bakker, then you’re gonna wanna to talk to all your sources in person. Trust me. I’ve never written an exposé.

Do you have any questions or thoughts about interviewing experts or sources for articles? Please comment below…

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5 thoughts on “Interviewing Sources and Experts for Articles – Tips for Freelance Writers”

  1. Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen

    Hi Thandie ~ I’m glad you found this article when you searched for tips on interviewing sources and experts for articles! Yes, I’ll try to find time to look at your website — but be patient. Time is a scarce commodity these days 🙂

  2. Thanks, this was a great source of info. Did a Google search in this came right up! Exactly what I needed to know. I’m a aspiring freelance writer and need all the help I can get, so if you do have any spare time, please can you have a look at my website – it’s an online writing portfolio. You feedback would be most appreciated!

    Thanks again!

  3. My preference has always been phone interviews. I had open-ended questions that needed good explanations, but trying to take notes while I was face-to-face with my experts didn’t work well. On the phone, I can concentrate on their answers, typing them as I go. (Of course, it helps that I type 90 wpm!)

    I’m about to send out several requests for e-mail interviews, though, and I appreciate the validation that there’s a right time and place for each method. Thanks!

  4. Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen

    Thanks for your comment, Michelle! I’m really curious – why did it go horribly? If you want to share, I’d love to know! (enquiring minds and all that 🙂 ).

    I just did a brief phone interview the other day — and found that it took about four times as long to get information as email would have. It really depends on the article or story you’re writing, and the expert or source.

    Maybe there’s an article in here somewhere, for a writing magazine? It’s been done before I’m sure, but there might be a new angle here…..

  5. I did my first expert interview by telephone last Friday and it went horribly, to be fair I don’t blame the medium but an email interview would probably have been less painful.