The Writing Life

A writer’s toolbox: How sharp are your interviewing skills?


Good interviewing skills are as important to a writer as bacon is to anyone following my new favorite recipe for chocolate chip maple bacon cookies – in another word, ESSENTIAL!

If you’re a media reporter, content writer or someone working on a non-fiction book or historical novel, you may be pretty comfortable interviewing people. But just like anything we do with regularity, we risk becoming complacent, even stale, if we don’t make a point to stay on top of our game. Often, it only takes getting back to basics to do just that.

Check out this quick hit list of 5 tips that will make any interview a success:

  1. Don’t skip your prep work!
    Of course you’re there to learn about them and how they relate to what you’re writing, but inquiring as to their current role or what their company does, makes you look like an amateur – even worse, someone who didn’t care enough about the interview to do any preliminary research.  Instead, impress them upfront by sharing a little of what you’ve already learned and how their expertise will be a remarkable asset to you and the final product.
  2. It’s their time too – don’t waste it!
    It should go without saying – be on time. Whether you’re interviewing in person or by phone, there’s no excuse for being late unless it’s an absolute, unforeseen emergency. Also, be thoughtful in the questions you pose – chances are, if your subject is someone who’s been interviewed before on the same topic, they may hear the same question over and over. Outshine those who have come before by finding out something new, and if you have to ask an obvious question, frame it in a way that it can apply to the topic in a different manner. I remember interviewing a group of board members why the community had voted against building a minimum security facility in a small suburb of Fort Worth. I knew the answer was two-fold: security and tax hikes, but the question had to be asked.  I started with those answers instead – asking what was the last proposal passed that incurred residents a tax increase, and how the average person would compare that to the facility being looked at – in other words, what was important enough to citizens to take that increase, and more importantly why?
  3. Build a bridge for the future!
    In a town of cowboys with deep voices, I was in my early 20’s when I covered city affairs in Fort Worth for the Star-Telegram, and I was determined to build relationships that would guarantee me a smile and a handshake each time we met.  You never know when you may meet someone again – in a work situation or even patronizing their business. When I built websites for a living for, I use to love visiting one of my client’s stores as a customer. I knew them, they knew me – it mattered to them that I valued their products and services, and it mattered to me that even though we normally only talked by phone about design, that I was someone special when I went in!
  4. Open-ended questions rule!
    Journalism 101, right? You’ll never create any type of story without digging deep. Weed out questions too easily answered. It tells your interviewees that you care enough to get to really know them, and your content will come alive. *See point #1
  5. Remember the Thank You!
    Drilled into me after Christmas every year by my mom to thank Aunt Bette for the $5 in the card, I still send thank-you notes to anyone I interview. It’s a nice touch and it only takes a moment – especially in today’s electronic community. Whether they helped you in researching your historical novel, or you helped them by finding out enough about their business to help build their marketing message, letting them know you appreciate their time is a small price to pay to have them think positive thoughts about you and/or the company you represent.


If you’re lucky enough to write any type of content for a living, do it well – do us all justice.

Write on…


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