It has been my experience that, when seeking knowledge about a particular subject for a blog, few research methods are as valuable as the interview. The internet and libraries can give you plenty of meat to work with, but interviewing an expert provides the sauce which will compliment and mingle with all the standard information. Handled properly, one or more interviews will complete your research and distinguish your final written project from any other on an identical topic. What, then, are the best practices you should employ when conducting an interview?

Begin by arranging the parameters for the interview. This usually involves some negotiating with your interview subject, and that's to be expected.

Where and When?

Conductin an Interview

Don't try to dictate the time of the interview, so allow yourself flexibility. This should be done at your interview subject's convenience. Try to gauge the length of time you'll need, and add at least fifteen minutes longer. Ask for a time when there won't be interruptions and all parties can avoid any sense of being rushed.

Conduct the interview in a quiet area, so that there won't be any need to repeat questions and answers. If it is a phone interview, both of you should be alone in an office or room. Be certain that your subject is comfortable, and that you have the clearest connection possible. If any of these factors can't be met, there is no point in continuing, and arrange another time and/or place.

Allow for discovery.

You'll want to be clear about the purpose of the interview, and the degree of your knowledge of the topic. If you are researching a subject that you know little about, don't hide that fact, or this will be a disaster. You may be requested to provide questions in advance, and that is reasonable. However, make it clear that you'd like the privilege to ask follow-up questions. Always stay on topic, but don't be afraid to politely challenge anything which contradicts your understanding. This is how insight is gained.

Avoid closed questions, which involve simple yes or no responses. The classic who, what, when, where, and why questions provide for longer, more open-ended interviews. Obviously, you want to avoid letting the interviewee wander off topic, so keep your ears tuned for times when a closed question can end rambling. An excellent rhetorical device is the line, 'So, if I understood you correctly'_'

Should you record the interview?

I prefer to record interviews using recording software on my computer, but you must get permission to do this. Make it clear that recording devices are as much for accuracy as for ease of transcription. Always follow the rules of good journalism by clarifying what is on the record. Bring a notepad with you, though. You'll need it for backup, to jot down key points, and to serve as a reminder of questions and thoughts that you may want to return to. Video cameras, incidentally, often have a peculiar effect on people. Unless your intention is to make the interview part of a vlog, avoid using cameras. The moment some people see that red light, the comfort level is lost.

What if you disagree?

Sometimes, an interview subject has a particular stance and agenda on a given topic. Depending on the focus of the interview, you may then find yourself in disagreement with the person you are engaging with. There's nothing wrong with this, but you may want to prepare a diplomatic stance. Avoid the word you when controversial matters arise, since this may put the interviewee on the defensive. Similarly, if necessary, tactfully pose alternative views in order to elicit clarity from the person you are interviewing. For instance: 'I remember reading that so-and-so did this, but you seem to be saying that's not the case.' Don't confront and challenge during the interview. You are the writer; you'll have your chance to make your case at publication time.

Have you conducted interviews for print? What are some of your techniques?

Gary Locke
By Gary Locke

A semi-professional hyphenate and the Content Editor for CommonPlaces. He has enjoyed a long career in theater and multimedia, and still hopes to one day drive the Batmobile.

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