4 Tips to Conduct a Better Interview

 In Writing and Editing

What happens when you are tasked with writing on a subject about which you are not an expert? There are a couple ways to get the information you need, but the best and most direct path is often interviewing someone in the field.

But, to get the right information from your source, you need to conduct a good interview – and that can be harder than it sounds.

When you’re used to writing blog content, shifting gears to writing profiles and feature-length articles that include direct quotes can be a challenge. If you’re new to conducting interviews, here are a few tips that will help you get the most out of your conversation.

Prepare Carefully and Do Your Research

Never go into an interview cold. Prepare beforehand by learning as much as you can about the person you’re planning to speak with and the topic you’re going to discuss. Get as much relevant background information as possible.

If you’re interviewing a prominent person for a profile or feature story, review their resume or an online profile to obtain the information needed to formulate meaningful questions. Then, rather than asking the “what” questions that you could easily find on your own, you can go deeper into the “why” and “how” questions, which often elicit more detailed responses that may help make your article more interesting.

Know the Goal of Your Interview Ahead of Time (But Don’t Be Afraid to Change Courses)

Before you conduct your interviews, think about how you’d like your story to flow and what information you want to introduce using direct quotes. When writing an article that will include quotes from multiple sources, consider the order in which you’re going to introduce each person into the story and what information you’d like them to provide. Then, tailor your questions to ensure they get to the heart of the information you’re seeking.

The overall theme of your story will help you determine what questions to ask throughout your interview, but if a more important or interesting theme emerges during the conversation, don’t be afraid to change course and begin a new line of questioning.

Questions are Key – Be Sure They Encourage your Source to Talk Freely

One of the most important components of the pre-interview process is formulating your questions. After conducting research, you should come up with 10-15 open-ended questions that will help get your conversation flowing. As you develop your question list, remember to keep your questions short and to the point. Long-winded questions often cause confusion, which can prevent you from obtaining the information you are actually seeking.

Though it’s unlikely that you’ll have to ask all of the questions on your list, start by asking a few and see where the conversation takes you. If your interview maintains a conversational tone, the person you’re interviewing will often answer a question or two without you having to ask.

While some people will give in-depth answers to your questions, others may require more prodding, so don’t be afraid to ask follow-up questions. If you are ever confused by a response, don’t move along to the next question before gaining clarification. You don’t want to start writing your article and then realize you don’t know what you’re talking about because you were confused during the interview. Be persistent.

Before you conclude your conversation, give your question list a final glance to ensure all of your questions were addressed throughout the conversation and ask the subject if there is anything they’d like to add.

Take Shorthand Notes then Fill in the Blanks

Mastering the art of taking shorthand notes can make conducting an interview much easier for you, especially if you don’t have a recording device available. Though there is an official shorthand language that you can adopt, creating your own personal abbreviated language that will help you take notes more efficiently will suffice.

Taking notes during your interview will naturally break up your conversation, which can cause the person you’re interviewing to become disengaged. By taking shorthand notes, you will eliminate some of the awkward breaks in your interview.

However, be careful not to wait too long to fill in the blanks after your interview is finished. While the conversation is still fresh in your mind, add in omitted words and phrases to transform your shorthand notes into complete thoughts.

While the idea of conducting a formal interview can be intimidating for some, keep in mind that asking questions in conversation is something we do every day. You set the tone in an interview, so try to be as confident as possible. Interviewing is a skill, and the more you practice, the more comfortable you will become.

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