In his column, “Interviewing: The Ignored Skill,” journalist Bob Steele writes that interviewing is as important to the finished product as the actual writing.
“The success of the end product – the story – is, to a great degree, dependent on the questions a reporter asks along the way,” he says.
So, when you set out to write an article or a press release, you should prepare to ask the right questions to get the right information. As Steele notes in his column, “interviewing takes some training; not everyone can do it successfully and get the desired results.”
Follow these strategies for successfully interviewing your sources.
Successful Interviewing Requires Research.
If you don’t know anything about the topic you’ll be writing about or the person you’ll be interviewing, you’ll be approaching the interview blindly. The purpose of an interview is not only to get answers to your questions, but also to gather additional information.
Your local library is a great place to find research materials, including books, magazines, film, CD’s, and newspapers. The Internet also is a good research tool, if used wisely. Stay away from sites like Wikipedia.org, as anyone can change and edit information on it. A person or business’s official Web site is a more reliable source. Also, you can call ahead and ask for press releases or press kits.
Find out as much as you can about the topic and person you’ll be interviewing before the interview so you can concentrate on asking questions that aren’t already public knowledge.
Ask Sources the Right Questions.
Prepare a list ahead of time so you won’t forget to ask your most important questions. That list should include the “Five W’s and an H”: Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How.
Also, make sure that your questions are open-ended. You’ll want people to talk so you can include some quotations in your article; a “yes” or “no” response won’t be of much benefit to you or your readers.
As I’ve learned in my career as a professional writer and journalist, no question is a stupid question. Even a bit of information that seems trivial, such as the correct spelling of a person’s name, makes a big difference to your article for credibility purposes. If you don’t know the answer to a question, don’t be afraid to ask. Never make assumptions.
Follow Up for a Successful Interviewing Strategy.
Make a list of questions before the interview, but also ask follow-up questions. Oftentimes something your interviewee will say will spark a new thought or idea that you can add to your article, and you won’t want to pass that up. Follow-up questions give the interviewee an opportunity to clarify or provide additional details.
An article about “Follow-Up Questions” on concernedjournalists.org gives some examples, such as using the “Sympathetic Noise.”
“The Sympathetic Noise – which is often simply reinforcement, or a gentle rephrasing of what the subject has just said – can unlatch a torrent of anecdotes and naked quotes,” writes author John Brady in “The Craft of Interviewing.”
Ensuring the success of an interview requires research, the right questions, and follow up. If you follow those three guidelines, you’ll be sure to acquire a wealth of information so you can write a great article. Preparation before an interview also helps alleviate any nervousness you may have before giving an interview. However, if you still don’t feel comfortable or need help putting the interview in writing, you can always hire a freelance writer.