Interviewing Tips

Interviews come in all shapes, sizes

  • Long, formal
  • Quick phone
  • Walkaround
  • On-the-fly chat
  • Backgrounder

Interview pros and cons

In-person interviews


  • Best way to build rapport
  • Physical surroundings can provide useful data
  • People take you more seriously when you are in front of them


  • Wastes time traveling and waiting
  • Distractions can interrupt interview
  • If you are uncomfortable,  it becomes obvious

Phone interviews


  • Fast and efficient
  • Less intimidating
  • Cell phones allow interviews to take place anywhere at any time


  • Impersonal
  • Difficult (and sometimes illegal) to record
  • More likely to mishear or misquote someone

E-mail interviews


  • Gives interviewees time to construct responses
  • Offers the most flexibility
  • Typed responses easy to copy and paste; provide record of what was said


  • No personal interaction
  • Lagtime between questions and answers
  • Are you sure the person is who he/she claims to be?

Tips for successful interviews

Setting up the interview:

  • Do your homework.
  • Think through story.
  • Determine best way to interview.

Set up interview.

Decide where and when to meet.

Ask if photos will be allowed.

Preparing for the interview:

  • Continue research.
  • Organize questions.
  • Prioritize.
  • Rehearse the interview.
  • Arrive on time.
  • Dress appropriately.

During the interview:

  • Relax.
  • Be in charge.
  • Start with basics.
  • Budget time.
  • Begin with softballs.
  • Focus questions.
  • Keep it simple.
  • Limit “yes/no” questions.
  • Get every question answered.
  • Ask follow-up questions.
  • Stay flexible.
  • Ask people to slow down.
  • Don’t worry about asking a dumb question.
  • Look around.
  • Use reassuring body language.
  • Use silence.
  • Don’t interrupt.
  • Don’t take sides.

After the interview:

  • Review notes with interviewee.
  • Ask who else you should contact?
  • Ask permission to call later.
  • Ask interviewees to call you.
  • Say, “Thank you.”
  • Review notes again privately.
  • Check back with sources after story runs.
  • “Were there any questions I should have asked?”

The Q&A:

  • As an alternative, run the interview as a Q&A.
  • Let’s readers feel they are eavesdropping.

Strive for racial and gender balance

  • Connect with all your readers.
  • Vary ages, genders, races and lifestyles of people you interview.

On the record. Off the record.

On the record:

  • Information can be printed.
  • Source can be identified.

Off the record:

  • Information cannot be printed in any form.

On background:

  • Information can be used.
  • Source cannot be identified by name.

Deep background:

  • Information can be used.
  • Source cannot be revealed.

One-on-one is not the only option

  • Many interviewers, one interviewee
  • Many interviewers, many interviewees
  • One interviewer, many interviewees


Real words give stories personality

  • But be careful.
  • People lie.
  •    Exaggerate
  •    Fudge facts
  • People yammer.
  •    And stammer
  •    And ramble

How to use quotes in a story

  • Direct quote
  •    Use when speaker’s entire sentence presents ideas in relevant, concise way.
  •    Partial quote
  • Use when quote is too long or awkward.
  • Paraphrase
  •    Use to rephrase a source’s ideas in a clear, concise way.
  • Dialogue
  •    Use to capture conversations.

Problems to avoid

  • Dull, obvious quotes
  • Rehash the quote
  • Using quote as lead
  • Read minds
  • Create monologues
  • Mimic dialects
  • Repeat foul language
  • Distort quote’s meaning

Punctuation advice for quotes

  • Double quotation marks
  • Single quotation marks
  • Periods, commas
  • Colons, semicolons and dashes
  • Question marks
  • Ellipses
  • Parentheses
  • Capital letters


Nine guidelines for wording and positioning attributions

  • Use full name first time.
  • Put nouns before verbs.
  • Attribution follows quote when quote is one sentence.
  • Attribution at end of first sentence if multi-sentence quote.
  • Can start quote with attribution.
  • Can set up long quotes with attribution followed by colon.
  • Insert attributions in quotes in logical spots.
  • Only one attribution needed.
  • Begin a new paragraph when you change speakers.

Should it be said or says?

  • Present tense appropriate for:
  •          Reviews that describe music or drama as if it’s happening now.
  •          Feature stories.
  •          Broadcast newswriting.