Help a Reporter Out: A Guide to Using This Free Tool to Find Sources

Help a Reporter Out: A Guide to Using This Free Tool to Find Sources

When a freelance writer needs a source, Help a Reporter Out (HARO) is often the first place we turn.

HARO can be super useful for building your brand. You simply create an account, fill out a query describing what you’re looking for from a source, and sit back and watch the pitches roll in. And it’s all free!

Except…It’s never that easy. Any writer who’s actually used HARO knows it doesn’t always bring in the sources you were hoping for.

Maybe you were on a tight deadline and didn’t get a single response to your query. Or perhaps potential sources flooded your inbox, but they weren’t remotely qualified for your article. Or, worst of all, maybe the pitches that came your way were so poorly written, they could only be called spam.

Tips for using Help a Reporter Out effectively

HARO isn’t perfect, but whether you get good sources also depends on how you use it. If you want to improve your chances of connecting with stellar sources, you’ve got to be strategic about how you use the tool.

Here are five tactics for using Help a Reporter Out that will help you connect with high-quality sources.

1. Write an engaging title

HARO requests go out via email, and the best sources are usually too busy to spend long in their inbox. That means your title needs to immediately grab the attention of the sources you’re looking for.

Try using an actionable title or a question that describes the type of expertise you’re looking for.

Bad example: College students

Good example: Are you a college student who will graduate this year without debt?

2. Be specific

Tens of thousands of potential sources use HARO. You only want the right people to reply.

If your query is too vague, you’ll have to wade through a lot of responses that aren’t a fit for your article. Not only does this waste your time, it wastes the time of the sources who pitched you.

Save everyone a headache by getting specific in your query. You want sources who aren’t right for the article to take themselves out of the running so you don’t have to.

Bad example: Nurses needed

Good example: Seeking veteran night-shift nurses to comment on 12-hour shifts.

3. Ask your questions in the query

Most writers know the pain of fielding vague or unrelated pitches from HARO sources.

Including your questions directly in the query stops most under-qualified sources from sending a bad pitch. On the other hand, expert sources who have something to say will take the time to submit thoughtful, well-written responses.

This strategy is also a major time saver.

Writers are often buried by pitches from PR reps that don’t say much of anything. By including your questions in your query, you can easily weed these out and focus on sources who directly answered your questions. This eliminates lengthy back-and-forth email chains and allows you to quickly scan potential sources’ answers for those that fit seamlessly into your story.

4. Use the “requirements” field

You may think your source requirements are obvious based on your query, but you’d be wrong.

I can’t tell you how many pitches I’ve received that start with, “I’m not quite sure what you’re looking for, but… “

Reiterate your requirements at the end of every query. You may want to limit sources to a specific profession, number of years on the job, location or the ability to schedule a phone interview in the next day or two.

This is also a good place to remind sources of additional information you need from them, such as a URL or short bio.

5. Highlight what’s in it for your sources

Sources aren’t just doing you a favor, they’re looking for good PR.

Each publication you write for will have different standards for “thanking” sources, but it typically includes a link to their website or social media accounts.

Use your query to let potential sources know what they’ll get in exchange for sharing their knowledge–and don’t be afraid to brag about the positives of being featured in your media outlet.

High-quality sources want to be featured on reputable websites or in publications that will get their name out to a specific target audience. If your publication has a high number of monthly page views, is a high-authority website, or offers the clout of being a .edu site, mention it in your query!

HARO is a tool just like any other: if you know how to use it, it will serve you well in your freelance writing career. The qualified sources you’ll find thanks to these tips can be what takes your articles to the next level.

What are you waiting for? You’ve got sources to find!

What are your best tips for finding great sources on HARO? We’d love to hear them in the comments!

This is an updated version of a story that was previously published. We update our posts as often as possible to ensure they’re useful for our readers.

Photo via Vitalii Matokha / Shutterstock 

Filed Under: Freelancing


  • Thanks for sharing! It’s very usefull!

  • What if you only get a couple of responses to your query? Should you reword/repost or broaden your requirements?

    • J.R. Duren says:


      My experience has shown that sometimes queries fall flat, no matter how you word them. It helps to be catchy (I got great respsones for a tax season pitch titled, “OMG I’ve Been Audited!”), but sometimes you can’t control the responses.

      I recently put out a query about Humana’s pullout from the health insurance marketplace. I was positive I’d get plenty of queries since it was timely, but I totally struck out.

    • You can always reword your post, particularly the title, and see if that helps. The time/day your query is sent out can also make a big difference. Fridays and weekends always yield fewer results for me.

      Sometimes it’s just luck that the right person sees your HARO query at the right time. Once I didn’t receive any responses, so I sent the exact same query again two days later . . . and my inbox was flooded with high-quality sources! Tweaking your query is a good idea, but sometimes you may just need to try again to get your query in front of the right people.

      • You’re totally right on that. Some days I have time to read through HARO requests and other times I just don’t, so I delete them after a few days, knowing that deadlines have passed. I will try posting this again with a slightly wider angle, better times and more focused audience. Thanks for your help and for responding.

  • This is a wonderful post! Thanks for sharing your knowledge with us! I hope to read more of your post which is very informative and useful to all the readers. I salute writers like you for doing a great job!

  • J.R. Duren says:

    Remember, though, your website needs to have an Alexa ranking in the top 1 million, globally, in order to create queries. If you don’t rank higher than 1 million, you can’t get an account.

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