Interviews have to be one of the most nerve racking scenarios that most of us have to go through during our working lives. Chances are that you are going to have to go through a whole host of interviews throughout your life; some of which will be successful and result in employment and some of which will be unsuccessful. Most of the time, the success of an interview is down to the way that you handle it so we thought we’d share a few tips with you that will help you get through your interviews with ease. [Read more…]
“My words were taken out of context.”
Two phrases no writer, nor their editor, want to hear. Quoting sources is not as easy as people make it out to be. There are rules to quotes and too often those rules are ignored.
” ” Means Exactly Said
First big point. When you put a person’s words in ” ” you are telling the reader that the words within the quotation marks are written exactly the way the person said them. Word for word. No fudging. If you miss words or add words you are then changing the quote. The quote is now a lie. It doesn’t matter if you think they meant to say something. If they didn’t say it, it doesn’t belong there.
[ ] Comes in handy
Now, I just said you cannot add words to a quote. Actually you can, but I really wanted to drive the point home first [ ] – these handy little brackets can be used to clarify a quote. Sometimes, actually quite often, when people are talking they’ll skip words or give a good quote, but within that quote they don’t mention the subject. That’s when you can add words with a bracket around them. For example:
“I really hated it [cooking with chefs], but it gave me the experience I needed to grill a great salmon.” or “It’s an important time in [a] teen’s life, getting their license is so exciting.”
The brackets either help clarify who or what the person is talking about for the reader or inserts a minor word that doesn’t change the scope, meaning or intention of the quote. Back in the day, one of my journalism teachers said, if you have to add too many words to make the quote make sense, it’s not a good quote.
Great advice – and did you notice how I didn’t add quotations? It’s because I’m not sure of the exact wording he used.
Brackets are also used in conjunction with [sic]. The term, without getting into the Latin behind it, means – the information you just read had something wrong with it, we know it, but to keep it as a direct quote we didn’t change it. You’ll see this often when someone is quoting a written source that has an error, but it can be used at other times. For example: The note found in the gag read, “All teachers must have a hall pass and a note from their students to use the retroom [sic].”
In writing, little things mean a lot. Take extra care with your quotes to prevent bigger headaches for you and your editor later.
Can you ever leave words out? Yep, but you’ll have to check back on Tuesday to find out more! I’ll also cover when to use quotes. Let’s have a little fun – leave your favorite quote below!
As much as I love old school – old school hip-hop, pen and paper interviewing, in-person interviewing, library research, etc., I have to admit, the new school is pretty darn fun too. Everyday there’s a new blog on how writers/freelancers can maximize their efforts to get work, get noticed and build a reputation through social media. AND everyday there’s another writer who is quick to say, “Bah! I don’t use all that stuff. I’ve got a website, a solid client list and I’m good.”
Those poor souls are wrong.
They are also likely the same people who wanted to hang on to their typewriter. Then their word processor, then their 486 IBM and finally that laptop that weighed 300 pounds. If being a great writer is about growth, why can’t technology be a part of that growth?
Social media enhances the article writing experience.
Where else can you hop on your little pedestal and say, “Have you ever tried [insert random product or therapy for depression]? How did it work for you? I’m writing an article on coping with depression,” and people instantly contact you with their stories and sources? Social media tools allow for writers to reach out to the lady in California, the guy in Idaho and the professor at Carnegie Melon without leaving their homes. Why is this important?
Access to real and diverse folks. Access to a homogeneous pool of sources – the choice is yours. Social media allows you to pull sources and resources from your audience making the articles you write more insightful, richer and more appealing.
Diversify Your Social Media
I know, I should slow down. I just got you interested in how it can actually help you in your work and now I want to get all crazy with it. Yeah well..So anyway, diversifying! Even if you aren’t a social media maven, you know about Twitter and Facebook, the two biggies. They are great, fabulous and…crowded. Don’t abandon them, they are still the hotspot for the social media community, but also look at other tools in the social media belt.
Like LinkedIn. Mainly a hang out for business types, meaning you’ll find less pictures of someone’s cats, LinkedIn still provides a wealth of information and connections to sources. Join groups that not only interest you but impact your particular niche. If you don’t have a niche, it’s still important to keep your ear to the ground with what’s going on in that world. Like in social media groups.
YouTube is not the wasteland of old Michael Jackson videos and dramatic squirrels most people think it is. In fact, it can be a wealth of knowledge for a writer. Video blogs and tutorials are rich sources of information and contacting those who produced them is a great way to get off the beaten path for sources.
It’s easy to become overwhelmed in this Tweeting, linking, YouTubing, Facebooking time, but it’s better to embrace it than being the last known user of dial-up. Take a look around, focus on your niche and see what connections you can make. It’s a big social media world out there, but the key is to scoot into an area that feels like home for you!
The Internet is an awesome piece of technology. The phone was a world changing invention, but person-to-person contact is still king. We humans are community-oriented beings. We desire to connect with others on a regular basis.
We writers have become comfortable interviewing sources through all the different electronic means and this has opened up a world of possibilities for freelancers to contact sources from around the world without ever having to leave their home or put a note on their expense account. With these advances in technology, we have begun to move away from the best interviewing style imaginable – face-to-face work.
Whenever possible, writers should work to meet with their sources in person. Now, before the majority of you get your noses out of joint, I don’t mean traveling on your own dime – without reimbursement – to Bali to get a three sentence quote about a specialized tree. I’m talking about lengthy interviews with people in your own area.
Get out and meet those people!
Three major reasons that an in-person interview is better than a phone interview or email interview:
A phone interview is convenient. No one has to get dressed, and you can do other things while on it. STOP! That’s the problem. Not only can they talk to you they can talk to anyone else that comes along and if the line of questioning gets a little too close to home, they can always claim someone’s come into their office or they’ve got another call. Hard to lie about Bob coming into the office when you’re sitting right there.
PR folks have their place. They are definitely useful, but their set objective is to make the source look good and keep them on message. That’s helpful for the source, not so helpful for your article when readers want more than rehearsed sound bites and rep approved lingo. An email interview virtually guarantees someone beyond your source will take a look at the response before you get it back. Sometimes the PR people are the ones responding for the source.
The same thing happens on a phone interview. It’s all too easy for a rep to be on the line and I’ve had at least one incident in which the PR rep kept interrupting the dang interview!
PR reps can be present during in-person interviews as well, but they usually try to be more discrete in person. Usually.
The good old fashioned language that speaks volumes without saying a word. I use my body language to relax my subject – taking off glasses, leaning in, nodding, sharing their excitement. When subjects loosen up they give better interviews. Not gotcha interviews – better interviews with real opinions, thorough information and the true personality of a person.
There’s no substitute for an in-person interview. It’s real, it’s engaging and it’s not to be dismissed lightly in favor of more distant interviewing methods. Heck, try to get a Skype interview before a phone or email interview, at least you’ll get facial cues!
Over the next couple of weeks, I’m going to talk about some oldie, but goodie elements of article writing that are still important for writers. It’s easy to dismiss some tried and true techniques because of all the fancy, technological whiz-bangs available to writers, but when technology fails – and it will from time to time – it’s good to have something to pull out of your coonskin cap.
Do I sound 100 years old yet? Good.
Pen and paper interviews. Important. Reliable. Still in use even after the invention of the iPhone.
Because technology doesn’t have your best interest at heart. It doesn’t care about your deadline. It cares about making sure its processes work correctly and if they don’t it’ll shut down until it, you or a well-paid tech person finds a fix. I hate to get all Matrix-y on you, but it’s true.
Digital recorders, cell phones, even old-school tape recorders have been known to stop working, accidentally delete and otherwise cause massive damage to your well crafted, Pulitzer prize nominee interview. Which is why you take notes. With a pen and paper. Freaky!
The Long and Short.
Back in the days of widespread pen and inking, people took classes in shorthand – that is writing quotes and information in a symbol or code form to be able to keep up with a person’s speaking speed. Some of the chief complaints of non-pen and inkers are learning shorthand isn’t a viable skill, is too time consuming to learn or keeping up with spoken word is too difficult.
Cry me a river. Keeping up with spoken word is too hard? Hard is explaining that you accidentally hit the erase button on your iPhone and lost the entire Dalia Lama interview. Writers don’t have to learn an “official’ shorthand – making one up on your own is just as viable as long as you remember how it works. This shouldn’t be too hard considering most Americans who find themselves texting or shrinking thoughts down to 120 characters use some form of shorthand already. So take a moment and figure it out because you won’t be able to keep up using long hand. Which brings me to…
The Eyes Have It.
It’s tough – taking notes and keeping eye contact with the interview subject – but it’s a skill great writers have worked hard to develop. In a person-to-person interview, maintaining eye contact and engaging the person is key to bringing out the story. It also works to help the person forget about the ‘interview’ and just talk. If you’re scribbling furiously and barely looking up, there’s a disconnect and it’ll be tough to get back on track. This is where shorthand helps. It also helps to practice interviewing in this way. Sure it’s more work, but that’s what happens with skills – you have to work at them ;0).
Transcribing and Storing
The funky thing about handwritten interviews is going over and transcribing your notes. Now this isn’t always a necessity if you are using a digital recording back-up. Storing your notes is completely up to your discretion. I still have notes from important interviews I conducted in college. Normally, I’ll keep notes for at least two years, depending on the subject and keep them all in one place under an organized system. This keeps me from rustling papers for an hour while an editor waits for a quote confirmation or source confirmation.
Pen and paper interviews – a worthy skill and investment in your writing career. Think about it and take action now. Think about how totally cool you’ll look with your spiral bound notebook. Jeepers!
The lede is one of the most important components of an article. It hooks the reader, tells them what the article is about and encourages them to continue reading. Before writing the lede, ask yourself “What is this article about?” Go through your research and find the information, statistic or anecdote that best represents the article’s information and formulate your lede around it. Also check out “Driving Rules for Getting to the Point with Your Lede” and “Lede On, Hook Your Readers Every Time”
A good article has a great lede, satisfying conclusion, smooth transitions and an interesting angle. The ideas presented have solid supporting facts obtained from thorough research. A good article also has expert or anectdotal quotes and tight editing. Not to mention you get that satisfied-high-five-yourself-feeling after it’s completed.
Sources are everywhere – your neighborhood, local colleges and universities, Google, social media. Sources can be found through asking sources you already have “Is there anyone else you think I should talk to?” Professional organizations can also point you to sources, take care to anticipate bias from certain trade/professional organizations. The key to a great piece is compiling and utilizing a diverse mix.
2. How do you conduct an interview?
Essentially, an interview is simply asking a source questions and waiting for their response. As people have become more media savvy it has become difficult for interviewers to break through the barriers PR folks or media weary subjects set up. “How to Lose Control of an Interview,” “Email Interviews vs. Phone Interviews part one and two and “The Art of a Yes/No Question in Interviews” are handy references to look at the subject more in depth.
1. I don’t have clips, how can I pitch without them?
The old freelance writing catch 22. You need clips to get gigs, but without gigs you can’t get clips. You could always go the “write for exposure route,” but you risk writing for a less than stellar publication that may not last long enough to give you the clips you need. Instead, if you’re going to write for free, write for yourself. Create articles in your niche, with real interviews, real sources to showcase your writing. These are writing samples. They don’t count as clips as they are not published, but they will help you land a gig so you can begin to build a clip file.
Got a writing question for me? Post it below!
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In my last post I talked about breaking news at your blog – or in reality, most of the time, breaking second-hand news at your blog. Most comments on said post lead me to believe that many of you, like me, don’t try harder than necessary to break news, but instead try to put your own slant on news of any kind. That’s smart since most of us don’t technically break stories.
Still, if you’re breaking brand new stories or slanting old stories you do need to find the news. If you’re at a loss for where to look, here are some ideas and some examples of where I search.
My day usually starts off with coffee and a news search. I also end my blogging days with news searches. I’m not overly crazed about posting breaking news, but I do like to stay on top of what’s up in my various niches.
My news schedule: Each morning and evening – and sometimes once midday I scan the news. Your schedule is likely different and that’s fine. I write for some clients who want fresh news often so my news searches happen more often.
Where I look for news each day:
My RSS feeds – I have a ton of news fed right to me. If you’re only subscribing to blogs, you’re not getting many new stories. You also should subscribe to news and better yet, organizational feeds (see below). There are tons of RSS readers you can use. Google Reader is a popular one, although I think Google Reader is boring and oddly set up. I also have blogs in my reader which I do browse because other bloggers hit news sources I don’t.
Google Trends – sometimes pays off sometimes not.
My email – I have news sent to me from PR Newswire. You can customize your news to meet your needs and have it sent to your email in real time or on a set schedule. I also have ProfNet opportunities sent to me, which I count as news. Learn how to set up your own ProfNet opportunity.
My HOT NEWS folder – My HOT NEWS folder is a little odd, but works. Many sites still don’t offer RSS or email newsletters, so I browse said sites every other day or so to make sure I don’t miss any important news. I made a simple bookmark folder and I fill it with sites that offer news, but not RSS. One example is WomenHealth.gov – why they don’t offer RSS I’ll never know. It could be I just can’t find it – in any case, I have many sites like this in my folder.
My annual schedule – Technically not all hot news is new news. I consider my own schedule a good source of news. At the start of the year I make an editorial calendar and pack it full of events and holidays. This is a good way to stay on top of news and event issues that people want to read about.
What I subscribe to: You can subscribe to almost anything via RSS but if you’re looking for breaking news or secondary news you should subscribe to more newsy, less bloggy sites. Of course what you subscribe to will depend on your topic, but here are some general ideas for where to find good new-related feeds…
- CDC RSS and podcasts
- World Health Organization
- RSS Feeds from USA.gov and Pueblo
- The New York Times
- Environmental Working Group
- U.S. Government RSS Library
- Topix – Topix is hard to manage in my opinion because there’s SO much news there and it’s not all new stuff. Some of what’s there are blog posts or content pieces that suck. Plus it’s so large that new stories happen every minute – it’s hard to keep up. However, it can be useful so I have one folder in my RSS dedicated to Topix.
- Your own brain – you can go to Google and type in any news search then subscribe to it. For example, I might go to Google news and type in “Green Building,” “Organics” and “Sustainable” then subscribe to whatever comes up.
Above are some ideas. When looking at your favorite news sites related to your own topic just check around to see if they offer RSS or email subscriptions.
For REAL breaking news stories you need to think outside the box. You won’t find actual breaking news at news sites or blogs. You need to put yourself out there. You can…
- Call up a person or company for an interview.
- Attend a real event – you know an offline event where actual people gather. I know it’s hard – just slowly step away from the computer.
- Answer a question – breaking news isn’t always profound and huge, sometimes if you have a question, “What % of organic cotton do those fake eco-Huggies actually use?” You can make it breaking news by finding the answer (if you can) and posting it. Odds are, if you have a question about something and you can’t find the answer online, others are searching too. Why not be the one to figure it out?
Where do you get your daily news?
Heads up FWJ crew, Article Writing at Freelance Writing Jobs has a Facebook fan page! Come on over for great post links from FWJ and other great sites, stimulating conversation and an opportunity to ask all your deep, dark article writing questions.
Today we further our discussion on the difference between blog posts and articles for both the web and print. In “Blog Posts vs. Articles: Length and Point of View,” I discussed how many of the tools, tips and tricks I publish here on Article Writing are applicable to both blog posts and articles. Successful application of interviewing tips, lede creation, etc., depends on knowing how to cater your writing skills to the piece. Defining the difference between blogs and articles means looking at not only the length and POV, we also need to understand audience expectation.
When writing an article, writers should always think about the audience for which they are writing. Knowing their habits and meeting their needs is important to having a successful article and a successful freelance writing career. They want the latest news and gossip without the drawn-out teasers and commercials of television. Your reader could be a busy professional looking for an expert, or at least a knowledgeable person’s advice on a product; or a hobbyist looking for instruction or ideas on a new project. Imagine a busy parent, who in between tending to their kids, balancing the family budget, driving to activities and wiping mystery goo off the floor, has stopped to browse the net to connect with other parents or research a concern.
Now ask yourself, what do these readers want? What are their needs?
When readers hop on the ‘net they are often looking for a quick read, fix or solution to whatever is going on in their lives. They have limited time and blog posts are there to fulfill that need, while adding personality, opinion and community.
Articles have personality to an extent, many have opinion, but blogs are where the people go to read and talk – hopefully. Blog posts inspire people to read, respond and follow a particular blog. They become invested in the community, interacting with the writers and other commenters.
Articles for both the web and print will inspire comments and letters to the editors, but the expectations are different. The don’t really expect a response from the writer or editor and are often tickled, or horrified, when someone does respond. They also expect a journalist’s approach to the subject matter – information given and shaped by sources and facts rather than the writer. When a person settles down with a magazine they are doing just that – settling in for a period of time to read and they expect in-depth coverage.
So in short (too late) blog posts – quick, informative and community building; articles – in-depth journalism.
Coming Up: Blog Posts vs. Articles: Format
Deb had an interesting post this week: “Appearances Count Even When You Freelance” that had me chuckling and also got me thinking about how writers can shut down their sources simply by walking through the door. Freelancers often brag they get work in their pajamas and while that’s technically true, no one should interview sources in them – at least not in person.
When I conduct an in-person interview with a source I pay careful attention to my attire and match my clothing into the message I want to convey. Of course, a writer wants to be viewed as professional, but depending on the situation, standard business attire may not be the best approach. As a young journalist I found myself dressing to match the corporate attire of those I was interviewing. During that time I tended to interview older professionals and needed them to see me as a journalist and not as some kid with a tape recorder – yes, that was before I got all digital and old…
Now, when interviewing people particularly in more relaxed environment, I find myself using my attire to put people at ease. I have a little trick – I tend to always wear a blazer and glasses with the knowledge that removing one or both gives a non-verbal cue to the interview subject: “I’m getting comfortable and relaxed, you should do the same.”
When choosing appropriate attire, writers should keep in mind not only their interview subject, but the subject matter being discussed and where the interview will be conducted. Interviewing a group of students on the “sexting” craze? You would do well not to look like their parents. Got a tough interview with a lobbyist about a controversial subject? Bust out the power suit. Going to the local nursery to get gardening tips for a organic gardening article? Leave the good shoes at home and be prepared to walk through and observe rows of plants. There will be times you want to stand apart from the environment and other times you will want to blend into scenery. Writers must always remember the interview begins well before you ask the first question. Your initial contact, choice of location and very clothing can make an interview easier and more productive.