You've snagged an interview with an expert for your big story. But how will you make sure that you get all the information you need from him? Try some of these hints to ensure that your interviewing is as spectacular as your writing.
Prepare Questions BeforehandNever go into an interview "cold". Even if you're just calling someone on the phone to verify a few facts, make sure you have a list of questions in front of you. That way, you won't waste anyone's time and you'll sound more professional.
If your interview is scheduled in advance, you might even want to send your questions to the interviewee. This saves valuable time, and many people greatly appreciate having the opportunity to think about what they are going to say, especially if you'll be quoting them.
Be FlexibleYou call your interview prospect. You leave a message. She calls you back, but misses you. So she leaves a message. Then you call her… Around and around it goes.
Instead of playing a wild game of phone tag, be highly specific when you leave messages. Give your interviewee windows of time over several days when you'll be available, and include a couple of different phone numbers (such as land lines and mobile options). You can also leave your email address on voicemail for your prospect, but only if you enunciate and speak very slowly. This gives the other person plenty of ways to reach you.
Try a New Way of InterviewingIf someone agrees to interview with you but you can never find a time to get together, try a "virtual" interview. Send your questions to your interviewee via email (the best way), fax (the second best way), or "snail mail" (third best.) Then, he or she can write down the answers and send them back to you.
Though this is certainly more time consuming than an old-fashioned face-to-face or over-the-telephone interview, it will still allow you to get the information you need without putting undue pressure on the interviewee to carve out time in his or her schedule.
Spell CheckBe meticulous when interviewing someone; ask for the exact spelling of the interviewee's name, specific title (if he or she works somewhere), and other pertinent details. The last thing you want to do is misspell something in your essay or article. In fact, some editors will dock you a percentage of your pay for any mistake that runs in their papers.
But there's another reason to be careful - if you treat your interviewee respectfully, he or she may help you get other persons to contact for future assignments. So it behooves you to be polite and get it right.
Quotes and BeyondIf you interview someone and tape the discussion (after receiving permission, of course), it'll be easy to cull quotes. The same is true if you receive written answers during a "virtual" interview. However, if you're simply taking notes, there's a possibility that your pen won't be able to capture everything that's said.
Depending upon how your editor feels about asking in advance, you may be allowed to send quotes (but not the whole story) to interviewees to ensure you understood what they said. Again, some editors frown upon this and expect you to get the quotes right without taking this measure. After all, the quote might not ever be published (as would be the case if it's edited out or your story doesn't run.) But it never hurts to make sure you know the rules, because this can save you much trouble if you misquote a source.
Hold Confidentiality in High RegardIf you're writing a piece about a particularly sticky or embarrassing topic, your interviewee might not want to be revealed. Honor his or her request and live up to your promises. A good writer never violates his or her agreements with sources. If your editor doesn't approve, you'll need to either run the story elsewhere, chuck your anonymous source's quotes and information from the article, or forget about the piece entirely.
Always Say Thank YouMum was right - being polite is the way to go. After every interview, follow up with a thank you. Whether you pop a note in the mail or just send a quick email, it will say a great deal about you and it will make your source feel honored to have helped you.
Remember that your interviewees are doing you a favour, so it's important to treat them with respect. Unfortunately, too many journalists, in their eagerness to get a story to print, forget that sources are not just cogs in a wheel. Scratch your sources' backs today, and you might just find yours being scratched tomorrow.