Wringing the Most from an Interview

© 2009 Tracy Crump

Three years ago, I wrote regularly for a newspaper and conducted a number of interviews. Some went well; some did not. But I enjoyed getting to know people and learned a few things that might help you.

Prep work

  • Make an appointment well in advance, even for a phone interview.
  • Research the topic or individual so you can ask intelligent questions.
  • Prepare a list of ten questions based on your research and market slant. Some people think this precludes spontaneity, but it helps to have questions to fall back on for withdrawn interviewees or for those times when your mind goes blank. You don’t have to use them.
  • Gather necessary materials ahead of time: pen, pad, recorder, extra batteries, etc. (Be sure you know how to work the recorder if you use one.)

Interview time

  • Call shortly before the appointment to confirm. This will save you wasted travel time if your subject forgets or has something come up.
  • Arrive 15 minutes early.
  • Even if you are nervous, try to make your subject feel comfortable. Explain a little about yourself and the purpose of the interview—but not to the extent that you take up interview time. Focus on the interviewee.
  • Start with simple yes and no questions to put your subject at ease and move into more complex, open-ended questions. You may have to steer your subject back to the main topic if he has a tendency to wander. Conclude with “Is there anything else you would like to add?”
  • Be considerate of your subject’s time. Keep an eye on the clock and end the interview at the appointed time.
  • Ask for permission to call if you have any further questions. Leave your business card.

Follow up

  • Write a thank you note.
  • Send the interviewee a copy of the published article. Experienced writers differ on whether to send a draft of the article for approval before publication. I never have, but I can see the benefit in fewer mistakes and misunderstandings.

To record or not to record

Some writers prefer to record interviews; other like to jot notes. At the risk of sounding obsessive, I admit I do both. I get much more accurate quotes with the recorder, but technology has failed me. Having notes puts my mind at ease.

Interviews can be exciting, challenging, and productive if you wring the most from your interview time.

Tracy Crump has published more than 100 articles, devotionals, and short stories in publications such as Focus on the Family, Today’s Christian, Journey, Pray!, ParentLife, and CBN.com. Thirteen of her stories have appeared in anthologies, including Chicken Soup for the Soul and Cup of Comfort. Crump serves as conference faculty for American Christian Writers, Kentucky Christian Writers, and Southeast Christian Writers and moderates an online critique group. She is a 2008 C.L.A.S.S. graduate and was named 2009 Writer of the Year at the Memphis ACW Conference.



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