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    Ask those Dumb Questions! (And 15 More Tips on Interviewing)

    As a writer, you will practically run into people and ask them questions. In informal settings, you may or may not come prepared and may just do impromptu interviews. But in cases when you have to interview certain people, qualified people, or people specializing in the topic you're writing about, how do you go about interviewing him? Here are some pointers.

    1. Make an appointment with your interviewee. You can do this by writing him a letter or calling him. When you make the appointment, always consider your interviewee's convenience. Set a time and a place where your interviewee is least busy and most comfortable.

    2. Always, always come prepared. Know your subject. Know his specialty.

    3. Know your interviewee. Know his background, his position, his personality, etc. You can do this by asking his friends and acquaintances or reading past articles about your interviewee.

    4. If you have set an appointment with your interviewee, come on time. If you are meeting with him in a public place, it's better that you be the one to come early and wait than have your interviewee be the one wait for you.

    5. Know the questions you'll ask. Ask dumb questions, not stupid questions. Put yourself in your readers' shoes. They know little about what you're writing about but you know that they'll be interested in reading it. Ask questions you think your readers will ask your interviewee.

    6. Always be courteous. Be interested in the subject.

    7. Don't spend your time writing down everything your interviewee says. Learn how to pick up important points and jot them down. If you could, learn shorthand.

    8. Never offer your opinion unless you are asked to by your interviewee. Keep in mind that you are there to listen and take notes, not to give your opinions and show how knowledgeable you are to your interviewee.

    9. Maintain eye contact with your interviewee. Look directly into his eyes when talking to him. Give off the idea that you are direct, interested and sincere.

    10. Never ask questions that will embarrass your interviewee or put him on the spot.

    11. Avoid close-ended questions. These are questions that are only answerable by either a "Yes" or a "No." When you ask your interviewee, he should be able to say more than a yes or no. Throw questions that will make your interviewee keep on talking and talking.

    12. If you are recording your interview, inform your interviewee at the beginning that you intend to tape your interview. Ask him if this is no problem with him.

    13. Go over figures and names with him and make sure you get them right.

    14. Inform your interview what publication and when your interview with him will appear.

    15. Give your interviewee your contact number. Ask him if he would like to have a copy of the publication where the interview will be published.

    16. Lastly, never fail to thank your interviewee at the end of the interview.

    It is best to write your interview story immediately right after the interview. This way, the facts and your conversation with your interviewee are still fresh in your mind.

    You should also determine what type of interview story you are writing -- a feature interview, an informative interview, an opinion interview or a combination of the three. The important thing is that you pick out all the pertinent materials in your interview.

    You don't have to use all the materials in your interview, especially if you recorded it on tape. Use your good judgment in sifting through your material. Always ask yourself questions such as, "Does this information support and help build up my story?" or "Are my readers interested in knowing this bit of information?"

    Be dynamic and descriptive in writing your interview story. Inject action; describe your interviewee's mannerisms and gestures. Show your readers his characteristic expressions.

    Don't use direct quotes one after the other. Alternate it with your narration. When attributing, use words other than "said." Some words you can use: acknowledged, asserted, assumed, began, explained, exclaimed, feared, grinned, grumbled, hedged, hinted, implied, informed, insisted, protested. These are just some action words you can use to give your interviewee depth and action.

    Copyright © 2001 Shery Ma Belle Arrieta-Russ

    Shery Ma Belle Arrieta-Russ is the author of the book, WEEKLY WRITES: 52 Weeks of Writing Bliss!

    The Authentic Self: Journaling Your Joys, Griefs and Everything in Between by Shery Russ



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