10 Interview Tips And Techniques For Writers
Updated: Jul 18, 2019
I learned a long time ago as a writer that I had to be even better at the interview process if I wanted to craft a compelling feature article or an investigative piece.
The interview will make or break your next article, and it's not simply about reading from a list of questions. Interviewing is about preparation, listening more than you speak, and striking a balance between doing your job and having trusting conversations that put everyone at ease – even when you're asking sensitive questions.
Here are 10 interviewing tips and techniques to get any writer going in the right direction.
1. Do your homework – Learn about the person you are interviewing and the topic BEFORE you show up. It's also good to come up with a list of questions ahead of time. If you don't, you'll do more fumbling and bumbling than asking anything of substance.
2. Show up on time – This shows you are a professional who cares about the story, your craft, and the valuable time the person you are interviewing is dedicating to you.
3. Be personable and engaging – Nobody likes a dead fish, and they're not going to open up to one in an interview setting. I always start with a smile (what a novel concept!) and create small talk to break the ice and build rapport.
4. Bring a recorder, and use it – If it's an in-and-out interview where you only need two or three quick questions answered on deadline, use a notepad and pen. But for any lengthy interview, record it. I prefer this because I can have a natural dialogue with someone without having to worry about writing everything down.
5. Ask open-ended questions – When the person you are interviewing is a Chatty Cathy, life is great. But that's not always the case. Open-ended questions require more than a one-word answer, and they help get you the information you need to tell the story for readers. A good example is "How did you know your plan would work?"
6. Actively listen – Many young reporters I work with make the mistake of focusing too much on the next question on their list, and not enough on listening. You must actively listen so you don't miss the real story. Check out this blog I wrote on 5 reasons why active listening makes you a better writer.
7. Keep notes for follow up stories – As you're interviewing, you'll learn new information that, while not pertinent to what you're writing now, could be fodder for later.
8. Ask for clarification – If the person you are interviewing is talking about things you don't understand, ask them to explain. This is also critical in making sure you heard them right. Say something like, "So that I heard you correctly, did you mean ..."
9. Don't be afraid to ask stupid questions – I am the king of stupid questions, and that's OK. As a writer, you have to be able to explain the simplest of details to your readers. Besides, stupid questions don't always lead to obvious answers.
10. Thank the person for their time – You have to build rapport in an interview from the very start, so it makes sense to close things out with a simple thank you. This shows you are a professional and that you care about their time.
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*STEVE GAMEL is the Owner/President of Edit This, a writing and editing services company located in Denton, TX. Along with being a sports writer for the Denton Record-Chronicle, Steve handles anything involving the written word. Give him a call today to help give your business a clear voice.