A good interview is, in many respects, the backbone of good journalism. And we don’t just quote sources for information and details—we quote sources whenever our subjects say it better than the writer ever could. We quote for emotion, opinion, stories, and epiphany. But there is a technique to getting the good stuff from an interview. Here are some tips on how to go about doing just that:
Avoid yes or no questions.
These are the most boring questions to ask and leave your subject with little else to say after giving the answer.
Try using the following phrase: “Tell me a story about…”
This is one of the best interview techniques out there.
Plan several important questions in advance, but make sure you are keeping your mind open for new and followup questions that may arise during the interview.
Don’t just stick to the script.
Ask your subject about things we can’t just get from a Google search.
There’s a reason you’re taking up this specific person’s time. Go deeper than just the logistics. Ask about feelings, opinions, emotions, struggles, triumphs, disappointments. A good interview elicits emotions.
But don’t forget to get the basics.
You can have all the emotional highs and lows you’d like, but if you don’t know how to spell your subject’s name or you don’t know how old he or she is, you’re up the creek.
Put your source at ease.
An interview is an intimate, guided conversation. Treat it as such.
Don’t be afraid of silence. In fact, you should embrace it!
Often times when you let a moment of silence hang between the two of you, your subject will break the silence with something really interesting.
Don’t over-ask the question.
For example, here’s what you shouldn’t do: “So tell me what excites you most about your job. I mean, I know you work with sick people a lot, and I imagine that can be tough. But like, it’s also probably really rewarding in some ways. But is that something you think about? I mean, does helping sick people sometimes make you feel like, heroic or something? That’s probably really interesting right? So yeah…um…why do you do this?”
Record your interviews.
Almost all of you have smartphones in your pockets that can record audio. Do this. Not only for accuracy but also to capture the nuances of how your subject answers questions.