Tips for Effective Interviews

Photo of reporter's notebook by grafixtek on Flickr and used here with Creative Commons license.
Photo of reporter’s notebook by grafixtek on Flickr and used here with Creative Commons license.

In previous posts, I’ve mentioned that I’m working with the local newspaper on some articles. I’ve been doing several interviews because of that. In the process, I’ve learned — or rediscovered — some things.

  • Have at least 10 questions ready.
    I have discovered that if I go in with fewer than 10 questions, I don’t get enough usable material. I struggled to pull articles together. Once I figured out that I needed to ask more to get more, it became easier. One thing, though: If you ask a closed question, one that can be answered with a simple yes or no answer, ask another open question where they have to elaborate. Or ask why.
  • Treat the interview more like a conversation.
    If you go in acting like this is a formal interview, your source will be stiff and uncomfortable. They won’t open up the way you need them to. If they don;t open up, you get short answers. Getting them to open up is key to getting them to talk more about the subject at hand. Don’t be afraid to let them go on a tangent. You might be surprised at how relevant it turns out to be later on.
  • Take notes.
    Taking notes is important. It shows your source that you take them seriously and believe they will have something good to say that you will want to remember. I advocate taking notes even if you are recording your interview because batteries die and — particularly with digital recorders — recordings can be deleted or become corrupted.
  • When possible, record the interview.
    When you take notes, you use abbreviations. Sometimes you don’t remember what those abbreviations mean when you go to transcribe your notes. It is also possible that there will be too much information to take adequate notes and you risk losing a good quote if you’re not recording. There will be times when your source won’t want to be recorded, though, and you have to respect that.
  • Be gracious.
    People are busy. Be sure and thank them for taking the time to meet with you. If possible, follow up with a thank-you note, especially if it was a “big” interview.

There you have it. These are just a few of the things I’ve learned/rediscovered while doing interviews over the past month. Hopefully you get some benefit from it.

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