Many writers will need to interview someone someday, either for an article, blog, or book. The trick is knowing how to get the information you seek without wasting your time or the expert’s.
Interviewing someone isn’t that different from doing research to gather information. When I’m planning for an interview, I always consider the word count I’m shooting for and what point I want to make with the article. Then, I do a little background research on the topic so I know what to ask about.
Once you know the length and the direction you will take, start writing your questions, and don’t be stingy. Write a lot! Do questions that will get long answers, no just “yes” or “no.” Write some questions that can build on each other. Lead the interviewer in the direction you want to go with the chat.
I like to plan the entire article when I do the questions. I sometimes break up my article into question paragraphs. This makes the writing process so much easier after the interview because you are already organized.
For books, break it down by chapter. You can use the same setup, but do an outline that denotes questions per chapter. Or, if you are interviewing a different person for each chapter, develop a standard set of questions that you can ask as if each chapter is a long article. Asking each person the same basic set of questions will help your book be more cohesive.
You can’t plan for everything, though, so be prepared for surprises. Questions may have to go unanswered, like if you are discussing trade secrets, patents pending, or personal material that the interviewee doesn’t want to discuss. Pad with questions that you could use if this happens.
On the other hand, an interview could go long, with lots of information about a certain topic because the interviewee was excited to discuss it. Embrace that! You might end up broadening the article or changing it altogether because the interviewee provides so much great information in one area.
Your preparedness and flexibility can make for a great interview! Just make sure you don’t go too off topic.
The most important thing I can tell you about interviewing is not just to prepare questions, though. Make sure that you are communicating with the interviewee ahead of time. I always send my list of questions to the interviewee before I speak with them so they aren’t surprised by what I intend to talk about. Especially if you are interviewing on a podcast, you don’t want the interviewee flustered or muttering that they don’t want to talk about a certain topic. Help everyone appear poised and professional!
When you finally sit down to write, you should have plenty of notes to develop your piece. However, you might find places where you need more information. I always let the interviewee know ahead of time that I may have questions while writing, and I ensure that they are fine with me returning the piece to them for review and to answer the lingering questions. This is always a good idea if your participant is willing because it gives them an opportunity to catch any errors, which can happen when you’re talking fast.
To help you get started, here is a sample set of interview questions. I developed this set for an interview with Kristie Knights, a psychotherapist who recently started iRise non-profit to educate about and prevent suicide. She’s working on a book where she is interviewing people from around the world about their experiences with attempting or contemplating suicide and how they rose above this desperate situation to live fulfilling lives.
I already knew some basic information about the project before developing my questions. I’ve spoken to Kristie about it and follow her on social media, where she keeps her fans updated on the project.
Her interview will appear in a future blog post on my site.
List of questions:
- How long have you been a therapist?
- What has been your experience dealing with suicide prevention with your own patients?
*This might be a question that she can’t provide much information about because of doctor-patient confidentiality.
- What was the inspiration behind the iRise project and the accompanying book?
- How long is the book? What is the scope?
- What has been your experience with writing prior to this book?
- Do you have a writing coach or someone who is mentoring you through the writing process?
- Can you tell me what part of the book has been completed? What step are you on?
- How did you prepare to write the book?
- Do you have a formula for each chapter? Maybe a set of questions that you plan totask each participant?
- What challenges have you met so far in developing your book?
- What do you think will be the most difficult aspect of writing this book for you?
- What have you learned so far in the process that you would have done differently?