Good Articles Always Start with Good Questions

 In Writing and Editing

A client emailed me last week to ask how I decide the right questions to ask when interviewing a subject for a profile piece. She was concerned about focusing too much on his accomplishments at the expense of exploring the more revealing aspects of his life. She rightfully wants her readers to really know the person, not just be familiar with his resume.

People profiles, whether for an email newsletter or academic journal, often are the most difficult stories to write. That’s because an experienced writer is always looking for a good hook that will make the reader care enough to finish the story (or at least read past the headline), and they are not always easy to find. Sometimes, it takes a little digging.

First, get the basic info with a Google search and by simply asking an assistant for a current bio – that way you can skip the questions about their hometown, college and the boards on which they sit. You may want to break the ice with an easy question – maybe about what they are doing now and why they enjoy it. Then, once you have them talking, you can start working on what you are really after.

The goal is to gain insight into what makes the subject tick. In this case, the person is being honored for his leadership activities, so start by asking why he is so committed to his chosen organizations and what he has gained from serving as their leader. Ask what makes a good leader. Ask what he learned from serving others and why he encourages others to do so. Ask what advice he would give younger leaders. Ask how being a leader has changed him over the years. Ask him why he kept saying “yes.”

Of course, you may not need to ask all those questions, but you get the idea. Get them talking about their passions, and the story should write itself. People who love to lead usually love to talk – so let them.


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