10 Tips for Great Research Interviews

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.

  1. Start with relationship. Spend some time connecting with your interviewee. Get to know him or her as a person.1965017_816271478388718_612352803_n
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.IMG_0374
  5. 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.
  6.  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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.1965075_10203555232787948_961820612_n
  9. Respect time. Set an amount of time in advance for the interview and let the person know.
  10. 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

Shepherd Song

Find Your Writing Passion


 

Some writers try their wings to see if they can make it as writers. They give it a year, five years, maybe even ten, thinking if they aren’t published by this time they will give it up. Why waste your time, energy, and money on such a hard and often thankless occupation? If you can quit writing, DO IT NOW now, and put yourself out of your misery.

Others write because we must. Writing helps us think and remember information. Writing helps us generate ideas and organize our thoughts. We write to make sense of the world.

What is your passion?

What is something you alone can share?

A lesson from page 210 of Stein on Writing, used with permission from Sol Stein:

“I ask you to imagine yourself on a rooftop, the townspeople assembled below. You are allowed to shout down one last sentence. It is the sentence that the world will remember you by forever. If you say it loud enough, everyone in the world will hear you, no matter where they are. What one thing are you going to say?”

Is your sentence one that could have been said by any person you know? If so, revise it until you are convinced no one else could have said that sentence.

When you have reworked your original sentence, consider these additional questions:

Is your sentence outrageous? Could it be? Is your sentence a question? Would it be stronger as a question?

Would the crowd below cheer your sentence? Can you revise it to give them something they’d want to cheer?

Suppose the person you most love in all the world were to strongly disagree with your sentence. Can you answer his or her disagreement in a second sentence?

Has your second sentence weakened your first? It usually does. If so, make it stronger than the first.

You now have the option of choosing one of the other sentences. There may be value in combining and condensing them.

You look down and see only one person, your greatest enemy, who says, “I didn’t hear you. Would you repeat that?”

Can you alter your sentence so that your statement will be enemy-proof?

Suppose you found out that the only way to get your message across would be if you whispered your sentence. How would you revise it so that it would be suitable for whispering?

Look at all the versions of your sentence. Is there a prior version that is actually stronger than the last? Can the virtues of one be embodied in another? And most important, which sentence now strikes you as the most original, the one least likely to have been written by someone else?

This exercise will direct you to a theme or expression of a theme that is uniquely yours.

Q4U: Most writers are introverts. If this is true for you, what subject will prompt you to talk or write?

Preparing for an Interview

Writers pursuing publication should learn how to speak well.

I know what some of you are thinking.

Hey lady, I’m a writer. Not a speaker. 

Here’s the thing. If you are pursuing publication and your goal is to be a successful author, chances are, at some point, you’ll need to use your voice. And I mean your actual voice, not your writing one.

Radio interviews. Workshop presentations. Speaking to your platform. Pitching to editors and agents. I’m sure the list doesn’t end there.

My debut novel will release in May, 2012 with Waterbrook Multnomah (a division of Random House) and although it’s still ten months away, the marketing department is already discussing ways to promote my book.

Recently, I did an audio recording, or an interview conducted over the phone which will be shared with sales reps and retailers. It also might be used for promotional purposes later down the road.

The questions were deep. And I was nervous. I’d never done anything like this before and usually, when I get nervous, my voice gets shaky. And the shakier my voice gets, the more nervous I get. It turns into this whole vicious cycle.

But you know what?

It ended up being a really cool experience.

Here are some tips that helped me prepare, relax, and have fun:

  • Find out what you have to talk about and let the topic soak. I had to answer some pretty deep questions. Questions I didn’t know how to answer at first. Letting them percolate for a while helped when it came time to brainstorm.
  • Type your answers in a bullet point format instead of paragraph format. I wanted to sound conversational, not like I was reading. But the idea of answering from memory terrified me. I needed something to help me stay focused and avoid rabbit trails. So for each answer, I had a short list of bullets to reference.
  • Practice. This is key. Practice alone. But even more important, practice with an actual person. My husband was kind enough to ask me the questions, listen and offer feedback.
  • Time yourself. Attention spans only last for so long. The more concise we can be, the better.
  • The day of the interview, don’t obsess about it. Practice one more time. Then do something to distract yourself. For me, playing some good old-fashioned spider solitaire helped keep the nerves at bay.
  • When the time comes, take a deep breath, smile, and do your best! 
You can use these same tips for almost any speaking engagement. I know I went through a similar process when I prepared to pitch to Rachelle, my agent, and Shannon, my editor, at the 2009 ACFW conference.
• • •

How do you feel about this kind of stuff? Do you enjoy speaking, doing interviews, pitching to agents and editors? Have you ever had to do it? If so, how did you prepare?