Interviews: Apps and 11 Simple Steps

Sunday, May 06, 2012
When you need to interview someone for an article or a book, here are a 11 steps.

First contact. First, get permission for an interview. When you identify someone who has information you need for a book or article, call, write, or email for permission. Clearly identify yourself, the project you are working on, and what information you hope they can provide.

In-person, Skype, email, telephone interviews. When you make the first contact, also ask HOW they want to proceed. Many people today want to just answer by email, which means they have time to think about a question and word it carefully. However, many today still want to do an in-person or phone interview. A final option these days is a Skype interview, using the live video over the internet protocols.

Research before interview. Do your research before you interview. For example, a writer friend recently conducted a telephone interview with a very busy doctor about recent research. Before the interview, the writer had already read a great deal of background information and could easily talk the technical talk that was needed for a deep understanding of the topic. She had a list of technical questions for which she needed clarification, quotes or more details. The doctor was appreciative that she didn't have to provide a basic course in the topic for the writer.

Write out questions. Go into an interview with specific questions. These will be based on the particular slant you are taking. For example, if you interviewed a doctor about her research, are you most interested in the doctor and her scientific process, or about the implications of the research findings? Either slant could make a good article; but each would require a different understanding of the doctor and her research, thus requiring different questions.

Tape. If you are doing a Skype or telephone interview, the first thing you must do is verbally get permission to tape the interview. Usually there's no problem because the interviewee wants you to be accurate.

For telephone interviews, here's a list of six iPhone apps.

For Skype, see their apps shop for 3rd party add-ons.

Be flexible. During the interview, even with your prepared questions, be flexible. If a topic or detail comes up that is interesting, reveals new information or confuses you, follow up. Ask enough questions to make sure you understand what the person is telling you. On the other hand, if you realize you just don't know enough, be aware of their time; it may be better to say that you need to do more background reading on a particular subject and can you get back to them at another time. Busy people would appreciate this!

Anything you want to add? I always like to end interviews with this question: What have I left out? What else should I be asking? Is there anything else you want to add? Sometimes, I don't know enough to know what I don't know—and experts like to talk about their passions. You may be surprised by the answers you get to this open-ended question.

Contact info for follow-ups. End by asking how the interviewee would like you to contact them again for any follow-up questions.

Transcribe. After the interview—soon after the interview—transcribe it. Some people want to leave out this step because it is more work. But transcribing will imprint the information even better on your memory and let you work out any remaining questions.

Follow-up. Don't be afraid to go back to the expert for follow-up questions. But be sure to do any background reading you can before you do that. Don't waste an expert's time with generalities. Follow-ups should be to clarify a quote, clear up a detail, ask for reference materials, etc.

Bibliography. Be sure to add your interview to your bibliography.

Expert XYZ. Personal interview. May 5, 2012.

Write. Ok. Now, write your article of that section of your book!


Darcy Pattison blogs about how-to-write at Fiction Notes.


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