Most of the time, the internet or local library is sufficient to answer all of our research questions. Whether it’s the capital of a country, the year a car model first rolled off the assembly line, how many bullets a particular gun holds, or who the president was in 1910, the answers are usually just a few seconds (and clicks) away.
But what can you do when Wikipedia isn’t enough? Or when you have a question that isn’t answered by the available body of research? Well, it might be time for you to ask an expert. But how do you find an expert? How do you contact that person? How do you ask your question?
Today, AuthorHouse Author’s Digest presents five tips for seeking the advice of experts in a field of study.
1. Find an expert. This one’s kind of obvious, but still deserves a quick mention. Try to find the most accessible person to you who has the expertise to answer your question. Do you have a gun question? Sure, you could attempt to ask the head of the FBI’s armory, but why? An officer at your local police department could probably answer it too. Don’t forget local university professors, museum curators, business owners, etc. Plus, these people probably aren’t accustomed to being asked questions as “experts,” and are more likely to start a dialogue with you.
2. Pick the appropriate time. Your state senator might be glad to answer a question for your political thriller—but does she want to answer it in a restaurant while she’s celebrating her wedding anniversary? Probably not. In situations like this, it’s better to introduce yourself, ask if you can contact her later, and be on your way.
3. Keep your questions focused and narrow. So you’ve decided that a certain bestselling author is the only person who can provide the information you need, and you send that person an email (either to his website, publisher, or agent.) Keep it brief! Introduce yourself, explain the reason you’re contacting him, and ask questions that are as specific as possible. Don’t expect him to write your book for you!
4. Be grateful if you receive a reply, but not upset if you don’t. Experts tend to be busy people, and might not reply to your inquiry—even with the best of intentions. Messages are accidentally deleted, not passed on, or get lost under a pile of correspondence. If you receive a reply, make sure to reply with a quick “thank you;” if not, find another person to ask and move on.
5. Return the favor. At some point, you might be considered an expert to an up-and-coming writer. If so, do your best to show the same professional courtesy to her questions as others showed to yours (or should have shown to yours.)