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During the interview

Tips to make it flow and get what you want

Write out some questions but don’t get stuck

It doesn’t hurt to write down a list of questions or key points before an interview so you don’t freeze up or forget something. But if you do use a list, don’t get so stuck on it that you don’t allow the interview to flow. Try to follow interesting digressions or surprising information.

Twin Cities Daily Planet contributor Sheila Regan says some of her best stories came about when she interviewed a source with one story in mind but found that the conversation took them in a totally different — and more interesting — direction. “There are times you don’t know what you’re looking for, but you never know what you might find,” she said.

The two best questions to ask

Whether you decide to use some or all of the tips mentioned here, know that you can’t go wrong if you ALWAYS ask, usually at the end of the interview:

“Is there someone else I should talk to?”

“Is there anything else I should know?”

Allow silence

Jay Allison, a Murrow Award-winning independent radio producer, gives this advice in interviewing tips in Pacifica Radio’s Grassroots Journalism Training Materials Web site. “Let people talk,” he says. “Don’t always jump in with questions. Often some truth will follow a silence.”

Offer something of yourself

Allison also observes how people are often more likely to reveal something about themselves if you show 1) that you’re holding up your end of the disclosure bargain and 2) that there’s a human wielding the recorder or notebook.

People feel more comfortable if an interview resembles a conversation…

…not an interrogation. However, don’t go overboard and dominate the interview by talking about yourself.

Capture what people really mean

Remember that people (especially ordinary people not used to speaking in sound bites) often need time to “try on” different answers as they struggle to express what they really mean. Your goal should be to capture what people really mean, not to trap them with awkwardly expressed thoughts or even contradictions.

It’s OK to ask: So do you mean this?

Don’t settle for a ho-hum answer

Sometimes you ask a question and your interviewee doesn’t give a very illuminating response. Maybe the interviewee is being evasive. Or perhaps just didn’t have his or her thoughts straight about the reply.

Sometimes the interviewer (that’s you!) didn’t ask the question clearly. Don’t just drop it. Find another way to ask the question, maybe using “how” or “why” instead of “what.” Ask for an example.

“Don’t be afraid to ask the same thing in different ways until you get an answer you’re satisfied with,” Allison says. That’s not to say you should bait someone into saying something, but make sure the answer shows instead of tells. (“I ran out of the room crying” is better than “I was sad. I left.”)

Try to ask the most difficult questions in a neutral manner

For example, if you’re talking to someone about a new shopping mall being built or the dismissal of a popular teacher, ask, “What’s your take on that?” Don’t assume the person is upset, mad or frustrated. Let people express their emotions to you.

The Interview Process

More Helpful Tips on Doing Interviews

Next Section (After the Interview)

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