Interviews are an essential information gathering tool for journalists. Asking the right questions can encourage an interviewee to talk more openly about themselves and the subject of interest. Good questions can also pave the way to exclusive stories. Failing to ask appropriate questions often means that an opportunity has been missed and the chance for a good story has gone. There are techniques that can be adopted for interviews which help journalists ask searching questions and make the process worthwhile.
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Research is key to finding good interview questions. Research the individual you are interviewing and the work they have done or are trying to promote. Ask questions that show your knowledge about the person. Some people will be interviewed by several journalists and an interviewer that has clearly done research will stand out. Researching a subject might lead you to form an opinion about a person before interview but try and put any pre-conceptions apart and focus on the questions that readers or viewers will want to have asked.
Use an open question to get the interview going. Begin questions with phrases such as “how,” “tell me about” or “what do you think?” A very common question used by journalists because it is effective in getting people to talk is “how does this make you feel?” Try to avoid leading questions which tend to prompt a particular response. Your audience might see you trying to influence the interview and your interviewee might take offence. Closed questions that require a yes or no response should be used sparingly.
Timing of questions
Ask your most important questions early. If the interviewee does not have much time, you may run out of time asking several softer questions to break the ice. Remember that the interview is not a confrontation, however, and ask even the most difficult questions in a courteous manner, making sure that you listen to the answer.
Keep your questions short. Long questions can confuse your interviewee whilst asking more than one question at once allows the person to answer the easier question and avoid the one that they’d rather not answer. The process is about hearing what the interviewee has to say, not you.
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