Interviewing and ReportingWriter's Web
by Katie Branca
(printable version here)

Preparing for an Interview

Interviews are essential to journalists, no matter what topic they are reporting on. Preparation is key to a successful interview, so here are some suggestions on how to effectively prepare for one:

  • Gather some background information about your subject if you can. Be familiar with their occupation and interests and understand how they relate to your topic. Write down their official title and the spelling of their name.
  • Prepare a list of questions that will guide your subject through the interview. In doing so, keep these ideas in mind:
  • 1. Do not ask yes or no questions. If you do, follow these questions by a statement that asks your subject to explain why or elaborate. Otherwise, you might leave with little or no quotable material.
    2. Use the background information you gathered to form your questions. If you can reference details about their childhood, education or previous occupational experience, do so. This may inspire discussion on interesting topics.
    3. Always plan to ask your subject if they have anything to add, or if they expected you to ask a specific question. They may be able to introduce you to a new angle or topic in your reporting.
    4. Always ask your subject if there is anyone else you should talk to. This interview might provide you with new contacts and a new direction in your research.

  • Contact your subject ahead of time and briefly explain what you will be investigating. In some cases, if your questions require extensive thought or research, you might consider sending them to your subject before the interview.
  • Bring a notepad and an audio recorder to the interview. Check the audio recorder to make sure it is fully charged and has ample storage space.


Conducting an Interview

Conducting an interview can be stressful, even for the best journalists, but it is important to conduct an interview correctly. To help make your interview go smoothly, here are some guidelines you can follow:

  • In general, everything in your interview is on the record unless your subject requests otherwise. Do not ask permission to use this information. You are a reporter, so your use of the information is implied.
  • Greet your subject and thank them for their time.
  • If you have an audio recorder with you, ask your subject permission before using it. Otherwise, use your notebook.
  • Keep in mind when taking notes by hand, that you cannot write everything down. Use shorthand whenever possible, but copy quotable material exactly.
  • Before asking any of your questions, you MUST ask for the following information:

    1.Name as he or she would like it to appear. Make sure you have its CORRECT SPELLING
    2. Contact information including his or her phone number and email address. Ask your subject if you can contact them with further questions if need be
    3.Current occupation and official title.
    4.Current residence
    5. Age

  • Begin your interview with the questions you have prepared, but do not become married to them. If your subject gives an answer that intrigues you, by all means stray from your list to investigate this topic.
  • Take note of visual and sensory details.
  • How would you describe your subject? Keep colors in mind especially. What is he or she wearing? Is his or her size relevant to your story? Do not be afraid to ask a subject's height and weight if they are relevant details.
  • Where are you conducting this interview? Is your location relevant to your reporting? What are the sights and smells? Ask your subject to comment on them.


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