Let’s Research: Finding Experts

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For Part Three of the Let’s Research Series, we will be talking about experts, where to find them and how to approach them.

Experts are everywhere, and they’re in every field, no matter how obscure or niche. Most, if approached respectfully, are more than willing to help writers with their fiction projects, and they can really benefit any manuscript no matter the genre.

You write fantasy? Experts can still help! They can make up for what you might not know in swordsmanship or horsemanship. Similarly, if you are trying to create a fictional language, a linguist might prove insightful on your mission. Crime writer? Experts can prevent your seasoned detective from looking like a rookie. Hard sci-fi? Experts can tell you if your science passes muster. Historical fiction? Experts can answer little details.

Many genre writers have become pros at reaching out to experts for added realism to their novels. While a lot of information can be gleaned from nonfiction novels, there is nothing like talking to a real-life human being and bouncing questions off them. Often times, you will receive perspectives that you might not have considered on your own or learned new information that hasn’t appeared within your textual research. Experts might also suggest texts that you haven’t found on your own, particularly primary sources that might not be readily available to those who are not in the know.

Where To Find Experts

Experts can enrich your projects with a realism that you might not capture without their help, but where do you find experts to approach? Well, everywhere.

Universities and colleges can be a good starting point to find experts as campuses are a cornucopia of them, offering so many fields from entomology to rather specific historical time periods. Several professors have also written nonfiction books, journal articles, etc. that can be used as a starting off point for research. From that launch pad, you can write down specific questions about the subject or certain primary sources to ask these experts. For my historical fiction novel, I was able to find a historian who specializes in a certain religious group and he was able to provide a lot of potential resources that weren’t on my radar, but really helped me narrow down so much about my story.

Approaching professionals (think lawyers, law enforcement, contractors, plumbers, whatever you need to reach that realism) is another option. Most police departments and sheriff’s offices, for instance, have public information officers who should be able to field questions from writers or direct them to an expert within the department. Sure, you might strike out here and there, but you will find professionals who are more than happy to answer your questions.

Sometimes, experts are people you already know. For my fantasy novel, my expert was in the cubicle next door. My former coworker (I miss her!) had done a lot of work with horses and her daughter was also involved in saddle club at the time. She was more than happy to share pointers on how to write horses, little details that might get missed by someone unfamiliar with horses. You never know what information someone holds; it pays to talk with friends and family members about their interests and hobbies.

Making Contact

Be upfront and professional with experts when you reach out to them. Tell them about your project, how you found out about them, and what information you are looking for to help with your project. Plan out your questions in advance, and if they do have a book or several journal articles available, take the time to read them so they don’t feel like they are being asked to regurgitate what they have already written.

Not every expert will take the time to respond to inquiries and some might even be brusque. We are all humans and have a finite amount of time. Thank them for any response. If it is a negative response, move onto a hopefully more friendly source of information; however, always courteous.  People talk, especially to others in their field. You don’t want to burn any bridges.

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