Keeping track of sources

Article research involves a few components.  Along with researching the actual topic, sources must be managed effectively.  I was reminded of this recently in working on an article for Aviation Security International magazine for which I have made nearly 30 contacts with sources.  Not all of them will be in my article.  In fact, several of them referred me to other sources and others have not returned my messages.  However, I have to keep them organized.

While I have used spreadsheets to keep track of sources in the past, many times I end up going old school with a pencil and piece of paper to start with.  No matter what I use, I track the same information.

First I put the name of the source.  Usually this is the organization I am contacting.  For example, one contact made for the aforementioned article was the East West Institute.  So, I write East West Institute.  Beside that goes the URL for the group.

Below that I write the contact information that I found on their website.  Finding such contact information could be an entire other blog post!  When possible (and oftentimes it is possible), I look for a press room area on websites.  Then I keep track of e-mail addresses and phone numbers for media contacts.  Sometimes I find a specific contact, like in this example, and other times it is a general media inquiry e-mail address.

Finally, beneath that is where I start tracking when I’ve contacted the source and what happened.  For example, the first entry for my example of the East West Institute look like this:

  • 6/14: E-mailed him at 3:05 p.m.

Simple enough, but then if I need to follow up, I can make sure to let enough time pass (they need time to respond) and I can also reference the date of my first message.  In certain situations, I’ll even go into my “Sent Items” folder and pull up the original message and forward it to the same person as a reference.

Finally, I also track what deadline I’ve given them to have the information completed by.  Usually this is the same for all sources I’m talking to.  Sometimes it can vary, though, if I am making a contact later in the writing process and need to offer the source more time to respond.

Tracking sources can get tedious, but not tracking sources just spells trouble.  For large articles, especially, knowing who you’ve contacted and when is the only way to stay organized.

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