10 Tips for Great Research Interviews
You may have heard the advice “Write what you know.” But what if you want to write about something you don’t know anything about? Find someone who knows. We’ve interviewed modern day shepherds, airline pilots, engineers, trauma physicians, people from other cultures. Each interview is different and can be valuable in providing the authenticity and detail for your writing. Here are a few tips we’ve learned.
- Start with relationship. Spend some time connecting with your interviewee. Get to know him or her as a person.
- Keep questions open ended. Yes and no questions don’t get you the details you need. Ponder ahead of time what will be the best questions to encourage the interviewee to talk.
- Be respectful of boundaries. Let your interviewee determine how much they are comfortable sharing about their personal lives. Don’t push, but be ready to go there with them.
- Be prepared. Do your homework; learn as much as you can in advance. Search the Internet or read books about the person. We find that the interviews are more productive if we have already written a first draft of the story or chapter. Then we know what blanks to fill in with our expert.
- Don’t be too structured. Some of the most interesting things we’ve learned were not from questions on the list. Sometimes, you don’t know what to ask.
- Don’t send advance questions. For an informal interview it’s best to explore the subject together. Sending advance questions makes the interviewee focus on your questions rather than the subject.
- Listen. Sounds obvious but too often we focus on ourselves and what we are going to say or ask next. Stay focused on what your interviewee is revealing.
- Record the session. (We use our cell phones.) Take the focus off of note taking and trying to remember every detail. You’ll be thankful later when you listen to the tape. We’ve been amazed to find information on the tape that neither of us remembers the interviewee saying.
- Respect time. Set an amount of time in advance for the interview and let the person know.
- Express thanks. Follow up with a note or email of thanks. You can also bring along a book as a thank you, email a few photos you took, or send a copy of the article or book later when it comes out.
Betsy Duffey and Laurie Myers www.WritingSisters.com