More Tips for Conducting Interviews

Following up on my earlier post about conducting interviews, here are more tips that you might find helpful, including a great one from a western New York freelancer, Christine L. Pollock. This was in an article about telephone interviewing in The Writer (February 2008).

In “Working The Phones,” she suggested outlining your article, even before you arrange the interview, to see where the article is going, then plug in as much information as you can from your preliminary research.

Questions will mysteriously pop into your head for the interview, saving the agony of coming up with sharp questions from a blank page,” says Pollock, who is managing editor for the Coalition for Quality Children’s Media—KIDS FIRST, in addition to being a freelance writer. “You might even find the article morphing into something completely different from your original plan.

“Before I learned this trick, I often became frustrated because I had already interviewed somebody, and as I wrote and my article took shape, I’d find myself with questions it was too late to ask.”

Great tip, don’t you agree? I plan to use that one for my next interview.

Now to other tips:

1. Do thorough preparation before approaching a source for an appointment for an interview. Sometimes a source will want to conduct the interview during that first call. That happened to me once — I was lucky because I had enough questions in mind to get through the interview, and later while writing the article I called back with more questions. But I always felt that it was a less-than-satisfactory interview and I wondered if my article might have been better had I prepared more. That experience taught me how important it is to research thoroughly ahead of time and be ready with an organized list of questions.

2. Some sources find it easier to tell stories than to answer questions. Often you can get more information, and sometimes a good anecdote, by asking something like, “Can you tell me how you happened to come up with the idea for this project?” or, “What’s it like to be involved in this event?”

3. Try to ask easy questions early in the interview, then move to any difficult questions as your source become more comfortable with you and your interviewing style.

4. Many writers like to record their interviews on electronic devices. Even though I set up my digiital recorder right in front of a source for an in-person interview, I still ask permission to record the interview so as to have that agreement documented on the device. It’s equally important to document permissions when you do telephone interviews. In both cases, you can download the interviews directly to your computer afterward.

5. Both federal and state laws govern the use of recording equipment, so it’s important to know the laws of your state and of the state where your source happens to be, as well as federal laws. Twelve states require the consent of all parties in a conversation. Thirty-eight states and the District of Columbia have “one-party consent” statutes, including Nevada, but Nevada’s Supreme Court interprets it differently than do the other states.  The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press has published a helpful list of laws about recording conversations, including a state-by-state guide. It might be wise to check out that information before you record an interview. You can find that it here.

Have you interviewing tips we could use? Please share them in the comment section.

Please leave a comment.

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©2009 by Laverne Daley



2 Comments on “More Tips for Conducting Interviews”

  1. Thanks for these tips, Laverne!

    I just heard a CBC reporter interviewing a writer yesterday; the writer was happily surprised when the reporter asked a question about something in his past. It showed the reporter had actually done her research — and the writer was flattered and probably opened up more than he would’ve normally.

    This is just an example of your first tip in action 🙂


  2. ldaley says:

    Glad to get your example of a tip in action, Laurie. Just proves again, I think, that there is no substitute for adequate preparation. Good to hear from you–thank you!

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