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Top tips on how to conduct a good journalistic interview

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Posted by: JasmineThompson
Posted on: 08/06/2022

By Jasmine Thompson (pictured), marketing officer at East Midlands Chamber and Business Network magazine writer

When it comes to writing about a subject for editorial or marketing content, it can be best to go directly to the experts for information. That’s when interviewing a source comes in – but it’s a task which often seems daunting if you are out of practice.

As someone who is relatively new to interviewing people for content, I wanted to share some top tips I have learnt along the way to help Generation Next members master the technique.

  1. Research

Do your research into the topic you are writing about before entering into the interview as you will be able to navigate the conversation easier.

There will be elements of the topic you won’t know about – that’s what you’re trying to find out – but a basic knowledge of what you are discussing will help you structure your questions. It will also help to find a subject to interview.

It is also wise to find out a bit of background about the person you are interviewing so you can frame your questions around their expertise, which will help your article.

  1. Think about where the interview will take place

Now we can return to face-to-face interviews, the setting is something we have to consider.

If the interviewee is in a practical line of work, then it might be best to visit their workplace so you can take pictures, and get a feel for what they do day-to-day – it might spark another angle of the story you weren’t expecting or help you to build some ‘colour’ into the feature by taking in their environment.

However, we all have deadlines to meet so if you’re strapped for time, and especially if the interview is short, you will likely get the information you need from a video call.

It is always best to pick a location that is quiet above all factors, so you can get a clear transcription.

  1. Set expectations

From your research, you should set an outline of what you want to achieve from the article – a prediction of the end result.

This will help you frame your interview questions, and make sure you stay on topic during the interview.

  1. Outline your interview questions

Which brings me onto the next point – planning your interview questions.

I have found it helpful to come prepared to interviews with an outline of basic questions – ones you know you will end up asking, such as “could you tell be about your background?”.

If you go off topic during the interview, or you get distracted taking notes, referring back to your planned questions can help you get back on track.

However, don’t plan too many as, in the moment, you can get stuck reading through your questions instead of asking them. Allow for spontaneous questions in your plan – the subject might say something that surprises you, and you will need to ask new questions to get more information.

Thinking of questions mid-interview gets better with time – and it’s likely that the more you practise interviewing, the less pre-planned questions you will need to prepare.

  1. Don’t forget to hit record!

This may seem like an obvious one but it’s frustrating if you miss this step!

Voice recorder apps on your phones are great for this but they don’t always transcribe the interview – which is extremely time-consuming to do yourself.

An app that was recommended to me was Otter, which I have found useful as it transcribes a conversation in real time. When doing interviews virtually on Microsoft Teams, I also record the session – asking the interviewee’s permission first – which transcribes at the same time.

  1. Start off by asking about the interviewee’s background

A good icebreaker is to start the interview off by asking the interviewee to talk about their own story.

It gets the conversation going, and though you may know parts of their background already, they could tell you a personal anecdote which might be useful to include in your article.

  1. Lead the conversation

As with most conversations, the interview can go off on tangents at times.

In your role as an interviewer, you need to lead the conversation and bring it back once it’s gone off-topic.

This can be when your list of questions comes in handy – you can restart the conversation by leading it back to cover something different.

  1. Embrace the silent moments

Don’t think of silences as awkward moments – they can be used to your advantage while in the interview.

They’re an opportunity to check your notes, or allow the interviewee to think about their own answers for a couple of seconds. They might change their answer or add something useful, so it’s best to not fill every silent moment with conversation.

  1. Get the basic details

It can be easy to become so immersed in the interview that you forget the basic details. It’s hugely important to get the spellings of names, companies and intiatives correct, while you don’t want to accidentally promote or demote someone by getting their job title wrong!

Either check key details – which may also include ages, places and numbers – straight away or make ongoing notes of facts to check at the end of an interview.

  1. Follow-up your chat

You should never be afraid to follow up post-interview.

The interviewee might not know a stat off the top of their head, or you might come across more questions as you’re writing the article. It’s best not to carry on without that information, and simply follow-up in an email a number of days after the interview has taken place – so make sure you’ve got their contact details!

It’s also good to share the finished article with the interviewee before it goes to publication so they can fact check the information.

 

In the April edition of Business Network, Jasmine interviewed members of the Generation Next network to find out more about their career backgrounds and explore how the younger generation navigates business in the current times. You can read all about it here.

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