Unless all your magazine and newspaper articles are written in the first person, at some point you will need to interview someone. Can you guarantee that every interview you attempt will be be successful? Probably not. But, there are some guidelines you can follow that will make it far more likely your interview will yield exactly the information you need for a successful article.
1. Be prepared. Define your purpose; know exactly what you hope to gain from the interview. Research the person to be interviewed and the topic. If you don’t prepare well, how will you know what questions to ask in order to elicit the information you need?
2. Prepare your key questions in advance and write them down. You will want to explore new directions and interesting possibilities during the interview, but prepared questions ensure that you will not forget the important things you want to ask.
3. Make an appointment if possible and establish a time limit. Don’t just try to catch your interviewee in a free moment. You will have a better, more relaxed interview if your interviewee has set aside the time to talk with you.
4. Select the right interview location. Be aware that interviews in the interviewee’s office may be interrupted by the telephone and interviews of mothers in their homes may be interrupted by the demands of children. Try to find a private place where you won’t be interrupted.
5. Set the tone of the interview. Break the ice right at the beginning; set a friendly, non-threatening tone and explain what you want to accomplish with your interview.
6. Even if you must ask some tough, sensitive questions during the interview, start with the easy, non-threatening questions to get the interviewee comfortable with the interview and used to talking.
7. Ask the right questions. Don’t assume anything; even ask questions with an “obvious” answer. You may be surprised by a response you could never have predicted. Don’t ask “leading” questions that assume a certain answer and don’t ask a question every time the interviewee pauses for breath. Ask concrete questions to elicit details that will make your article more interesting.
8. Guide the interview. Don’t interrupt a helpful train of thought; write down questions to follow up. But, don’t let the interviewee take off on an unhelpful tangent.
9. Avoid debating with the interviewee. Your interviewee may express opinions with which you don’t agree. Avoid the temptation to turn the interview into either a conversation or a debate. You’re there to get the information you need, not to have a discussion. Set aside your own opinions until the end of the interview and then if you wish to get into it with the interviewee, feel free to wade in.
10. Ask for final thoughts. You may discover important information you hadn’t thought to ask about.
For more information on the Art of the Interview, you may download a free ebook from Magazine Training International.