Why I love source approvals (and a template to do them flawlessly)

Recently, I was talking with a client about a major feature project that used a lot of institutional VIPs as sources, and I brought up my source approval process.

“Wait,” she said. “You do an approval process for every source? On every story?”





Want to skip straight to the exact source-approval template I use, complete with notes on the wordings I use? Head over here.

Otherwise, read on to find out why I think it’s an essential part of every story process.

My team and I do lots of work on annual reports, campaign- and donor-related projects and (of course!) alumni magazines. For every project, I work with the editor to build in time for source approvals.

Here’s why I do it — and why you should, too.

  • You can showcase the high standards you have for your story and publication. Source approval processes take time (and sometimes some savvy negotiation skills). But they also show that you care about the story and the publication.
  • You can connect with your alumni and VIP sources in a meaningful way. Sources carve out time to talk with us, provide headshots or links to research studies, and suggest other great people to talk to. When we offer a chance for them to review the text about them, it’s a way to show them that we’re taking their words and ideas seriously.
  • You can make sure you get the story right. First, let’s be clear: we all make mistakes! Maybe we mishear a sentence or misunderstand some context. If you’re working on a print publication, once a story is out in the world, it’s out in the world. A misspelling? A misquote? In that print publication, there’s no fixing it, only running a correction in a future publication. Source approval is one way to get closer to perfect.

These things can all be true, but people always ask: ERIN, WHAT IF THEY WANT TO CHANGE THEIR QUOTES TO RUN-ON SENTENCES OF 3,000 WORDS???????

Guys, I get that this can happen.

But also: you’re the editor. In my own source approval work, I never promise to make changes, but I always offer the opportunity for review. The vast majority of the time, the corrections are modest and useful.

That other 1 percent of the time — which definitely can be a nightmare! — should not negate the 99 percent of good, valuable input that sources can provide.

So that’s why, from my perspective, story approvals are so important.

Over the years, some folks have asked if they could have the “magic words” that I use to get these source approvals. I’m happy to share them!

Here’s a template you can start using today.