As a freelance writer you’ll likely need to interview people for articles, especially if you’re writing for newspapers or magazines. You need to do this well so you write a great story, impress your readers, and, just as importantly, impress editors who will give you more assignments.
Before the Interview
Thoroughly research the person you’ll be interviewing so that you can formulate the best questions possible. Don’t waste the subject’s time by asking basic factual questions about her career when you can easily find the information on her website or in the autobiography she wrote. (Note: also read about the best ways freelance writers can land and schedule an interview.)
11 Tips for the Actual Interview
1. Have your list of questions prepared and rehearsed well in advance.
2. Arrange the questions in a logical order and star the most important ones to make sure you get them answered.
3. Be willing to branch out from your prepared questions as the interview develops.
4. Let your subject talk at length as long as it’s on topic and will give you good information for your piece.
5. Be conversational, but remember that it’s not about you: it’s about her. Your subject should do at least 90% of the talking.
6. Dress appropriately. Better to be a bit overdressed than even slightly underdressed.
7. Ask questions that will spur your subject to talk at length. Don’t ask questions that can be answered with a simple “yes” or “no.” Build on journalism’s who-what-where-when-why-how system to create the best questions.
8. Only ask factual questions that you can’t find through research and that you know are relevant to your story.
9. Bring a recorder and pens and notepad. Record the interview so you can get accurate quotes and information. Write down important info as you go along and note the approximate time on the recorder so you can refer to the recording later.
10. If you do the interview over the phone, make sure to take good and accurate notes. If you’ll be doing many interviews in your career, learn shorthand.
11. Consider doing the interview via e-mail. You submit the questions and the subject writes answers and sends them back. Depending on what you need from the interview, this can be a very good way to go.
After the Interview
After the interview you still have more to do (besides actually write your piece, that is):
- As soon as the interview is complete, make sure that you actually have a good recording of the conversation. If the recorder missed some parts, fill in from memory.
- Contact the subject with any other questions you have.
- Ensure that any facts given to you by the subject are in fact accurate.
Any tips to add to the list? Any personal stories about what went well or what went wrong with your interviews?