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3 Free Ways to Polish Your Professional Image
by Cheryl Lemine

No matter where you are on the writing continuum, harkening back to childhood and remembering mom's "magic words" can help make you a classy act when it comes to communicating with sources.

Since today’s schedules are packed with personal and professional obligations, ideas to maximize my limited research and interview time top my list. How about yours?

Here are three ideas to make your minutes doing research more fun and profitable - perhaps ways you haven’t considered - yet.

BEING BRIEF AND DIRECT: The Initial Contact Person

Be generous! Use "please" and "thank you" often. Sources know phone calls from writers mean requests for time and information. Why not surprise them by motivating with a pleasant approach instead of your stress from deadline pressure?

Who is the “information” funnel? By that, I am asking who has direct access to your source and lets them know about requests for interviews? Since many of my articles require contacting physicians at well-known hospitals, a receptionist is usually my first point of contact. If he/she provides a name when answering, I use it.

For example:

"Cardiology. This is Mary. Can I help you?"

"Yes, Mary. I'm a local writer and need to reach Dr. Jones. Could you please tell me who relays requests to her for interviews?"

"That would be Sara, her physician's assistant. Can I put you through to her voice mail?"

"Mary, that would be great, thank you. However, before you forward me, could I please have Sara's direct line in case we're disconnected?"

"Sure…"

Now, you and Mary don't have to become frequent phone friends, but now you have valid contact information to use for the next step.

GETTING TO THE SOURCE: The Communication Conduit

I contact this person, introduce myself and ask whether or not it would help them for me to email my interview request. Most accept quickly because submitting a written interview request frees him or her from taking a detailed message. Many even request I email them and copy the person whom I want to interview. Aha! Now I have the source's direct contact information. Thank you!

I also apply the same professional protocol (manners) in my written request.

After a salutation, I use three mini-headlines in blue: What I'm doing; What I need; When I'm available. At first, I thought it presumptuous for me to provide dates and time frames, but it gives my source ultimate control in selecting a convenient interview time. Occasionally, I’ve had to provide additional options, but those instances have been rare.

For me, this method eliminates back-and-forth phone messages, which means I have more time to write because the interview is planned and scheduled.  

My email looks similar to this:

Hi, Dr. Jones:

My name is Cheryl Lemine and I'm a local writer. Currently, I'm working on an assignment for the October issue of Health Magazine, a free monthly publication of the Martin & Sons Publishing Company. Joe Smith, the editor, suggested I contact you. Please see the information below.

What I’m Doing:

The article's focus is to provide patients three to five suggestions on how to communicate more clearly with their care team, especially when it involves specialists who work in different locations.

What I Need:

You are known for teaching patients to become proficient and well informed communicators, so the interview would focus on your approach for doing this. As a result, readers will learn that they, too, can have clearer communication by implementing these ideas. I will also include background information from (and I list a second source here, if available.)

I'd like to schedule a 20 minute phone interview with you.

When I'm Available:

Mon., Aug. 3, 2009: anytime between 1 p.m. and 9 p.m.
Tues., Aug. 4, 2009: anytime between 6 a.m. and 8 a.m. OR 3 p.m. to 9 p.m.
Wed., Aug. 5, 2009: anytime between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m.

Additionally, I will be glad to call you or you may reach me at XXX-XXXX.

Thank you for considering my request.

At this point, the source and/or her assistant can tell me the best interview time, I have a phone appointment to do so and I'm on my way to gathering research for my readers.

THANKING THE SOURCE: Twice, not once!

The first time I thank my source is when we begin the interview. Sometimes interviews are uncomfortable situations. Perhaps it's a source's first. Maybe he or she really has been misquoted or misrepresented in the past. Sources take time to relay their expertise and many never see the result of their interview investment. I also set the interview stage by explaining the assignment and how it will be used. I also tell the source they will receive a copy of the issue in the mail. That way they can see what Paul Harvey called "the rest of the story."

After the interview, writing, submission and publication, I'm back in action - to thank my source one last time. I mail a copy of the article with a note of thanks attached to my business card.

When you make the most of your manners as a writer, it may not land you bigger bucks, but it helps establish a good working relationship with contacts and sources. As a result, I am comfortable knowing I can call these sources in the future. Not only are they willing to speak with me again, but they have also willingly referred me to colleagues and other sources of which I may not be aware. Everyone wins: my story is better and my readers have access to important information gleaned from a generous expert.

© Copyright 2009, Cheryl Lemine

Cheryl B. Lemine is a writer in Jacksonville, Florida who specializes in special reports, white papers and current health and medical topics. She enjoys wonderful access to sources by incorporating the “magic words” (manners) her mother taught her as a child. Cheryl can be reached via email: iamthewriteone@yahoo.com.

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