Interviewing 101

In case you’re a reclusive writer prone to making an idiot of yourself like the hypothetical person in my last post, here are some tips we journalism-shy types may have missed when we were busy studying Jane Austen. Laurence Pringle shared these ideas during a brown-bag session in 2003 at Chautauqua.

  • WHY? Interviews with experts can add depth, color, and authority to your writing. And I would add that if you have writers block, a likely suspect is that you don’t know enough about your topic yet. Interviewing experts can alert you to possibilities you never would have thought of yourself.
  • WHAT? Information experts know—and also what they DON’T know—are both interesting! This especially applies, I think, if you’re writing a nonfiction article for a children’s magazine, but I can also see it working in fiction. It helps to understand that even my genius characters probably don’t know everything.
  • WHO? Find the right expert to interview based on the detailed information you need to know. I welcome your comments on how to go about doing this! We didn’t get a chance to talk about this much. For me, I usually prefer finding someone through a personal contact (like a hypothetical former neighbor) more than randomly finding someone on the Internet. But all the social networking sites out there these days are a great resource if you can’t think of anyone you know to help.
  • HOW? Approach the expert politely, perhaps through a letter or an e-mail. This is the most polite way because it doesn’t require immediate response, but it will almost always require follow-up. And it’s possible you’ll have to schedule an interview through a PR department. Keep in mind that some experts are wary of journalists because they may have been misrepresented or distorted in the past. Be prepared to convince the expert that you are honest and have a worthy project. If the piece is for children, this can be a big help in putting the expert at ease.
  • PREPARE! Know about the person and his or her subject matter. Know what you’re looking for and have very specific questions outlined—questions that you can’t easily find the answers to elsewhere or questions on which you’d like a unique or personal comment. Read everything you can find about the person beforehand (in case this person happens to be in a cast, recovering from surgery, and deserving of a little more sensitivity than you’d hypothetically give if you didn’t know this). If there is going to be an in-person or telephone interview, consider sending questions in advance.

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One response to “Interviewing 101

  1. This is really helpful, thank you!