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Viewing: Blog Posts Tagged with: interviewing sources, Most Recent at Top [Help]
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1. Perfecting the Art of Interviewing

A few years ago, I received an assignment from a local magazine I write for that made me take pause. The editor wanted me to visit the home of a woman living with ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, and interview her about a foundation she had started after her diagnosis. I’ll admit that when I found out the woman communicated using an eye-tracking technology connected to a computer, I hesitated. I worried that I wouldn’t know the best way to communicate effectively with her. But I was also up for the challenge, so I accepted the assignment. I e-mailed her a list of questions ahead of time and arrived at her home on the day of the interview with my laptop and a notepad and pen so I could take notes.

I can honestly say that interview was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. She showed me how the device on her headband allowed her to communicate through her computer, compose e-mails, search the internet and turn everything she “typed” on her screen into speech so we could have an actual conversation. But what struck me the most was how gracious she was even while confined to her wheelchair with limited means of movement and communication. She asked me questions about my family and me and even complimented my work. It turns out she had researched me as much as I had researched her before our interview.

In my work as a blogger, journalist and magazine editor I’ve conducted countless interviews over the years. Some of them went very well like the example above, others did not, leaving me scrambling to pull together a polished article with less quotes than I had originally planned. Here are a few things I’ve learned over the years that make interviews run more smoothly:

1. Send a list of interview questions ahead of time. I always like to come up with at least four to five questions to least get the conversation started. I e-mail the person the list of the questions and tell them approximately how long the interview should last so they can plan accordingly.

2. Don’t go into an interview cold. We all have assignments that turn up at the last minute, but if you’re conducting a phone or in-person interview, spend some time researching the person you’ll be interviewing if at all possible. Focus on the areas of their life that align with what you’re writing. Is the person the head of a foundation? What other volunteer work are they involved in? How has their life path led to them to this point in time?

3. Be present and prepared. I often conduct interviews and then spend a few days soaking in the experience before I actually start to work on the article or profile. The best advice I can give here is to be a great listener. I either take notes by typing on my laptop (usually with phone interviews) and in person I use a combination of a recording app on my iPhone and notes by hand. If you are recording with a device periodically check to make sure it’s working and still recording. While it’s great to find common ground with the person you’re interviewing, strive for a balanced conversation. Try not to spend a lot of time talking about yourself and your interests unless the subject asks. If you’re interviewing in person, look around at your surroundings and takes notes on what you see. This can often provide a great introduction to your article.

4. Follow up. If you have any follow-up questions, e-mail them a soon as you think of them so your subject has enough time to send responses back to you before your deadline. And finally, be courteous; send the person a link to the article (or hard copy if applicable once the interview is published along with a “thank-you” note or e-mail.

What other tips can you offer when conducting interviews for blog posts and articles?

Renee Roberson is an award-winning writer and editor who also works as a blog tour manager for WOW-Women on Writing. She’s currently looking for a few more blogs to promote Frances Caballo’s book Avoid Social Media Time Suck: A Blueprint for Writers Who Want to Create Online Buzz for Their Books and Still Have Time to Write. You can contact her at [email protected]

0 Comments on Perfecting the Art of Interviewing as of 3/17/2014 11:15:00 AM
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2. Why You Shouldn’t Do E-Mail Interviews Unless You Really, Really Have To

In Lessons 4 and 5 of my Write for Magazines e-course, I have students find sources and set and conduct interviews.

I know this can be scary for newer writers — and I know it because a few of them always end up setting e-mail interviews so they don’t have to face the source by phone.

Some writers will argue that e-mail interviews are fine. You ask questions, the source answers them. Done! E-mail interviews also have the advantage of giving the source a chance to really think about her answers, these writers say. And what if your source is overseas?

But unless you really, really can’t get a key source to agree to an interview any other way, I advise against doing e-mail interviews. (And the operative word here is “key” — if the source isn’t absolutely essential to your article, you can find someone who is willing to talk on the phone.) Here’s why.

1. You get canned answers. The benefit of phone (or in-person) interviews is that you see the source as he really is and get unfiltered answers to your questions. Sometimes, the answers to questions you didn’t ask make the best quotes. But with an e-mail interview, you’re basically giving the source permission to spin his own answers — and you often end up with canned, sanitized corporate-speak, which makes for terrible quotes. Not good.

2. You waste time. Writers often think they’ll save time by shooting off their questions and just sitting back and waiting for the answers. But the benefit of phone interviews is that if questions that aren’t on your list come up as you do the interview — which they will — you can just ask them right then. With an e-mail interview, you have to e-mail the source each time a new question comes up, and wait for the source to reply to each one — resulting in a time-consuming back-and-forth that’s less likely to get all your questions answered.

3. E-mail interviews are easy to put off. I used to do e-mail interviews occasionally before I wised up, and one major drawback is that sources don’t treat them as seriously as phone interviews. With a phone interview, you set a date and time and (usually) the source is there when you call. With an e-mail interview, you send your questions and even if you give a deadline for responses, chances are you’ll get the answers back only after days of nudging the source — which means you risk rushing at the last minute or even missing your deadline.

4. Many editors don’t like them. If you actually ask your editor whether she’ll accept an e-mail interview, she’ll probably agree to one only if it’s a key source and he refuses to speak on the phone. And don’t think you can just adopt a “don’t ask don’t tell” policy: Technically, when you quote from an e-mail interview you’re supposed to append the quote with “said Jones in an e-mail interview.” You got it — if you do it right, you’ll be outed as someone too lazy to do proper reporting.

5. There are no excuses. “What if my source is overseas?” you may ask. To that I say, there are many ways around this. For example, Skype is often an option; I interviewed someone in Taiwan via Skype just last week. If the source doesn’t have Skype, you can ask the editor if the publication will cover phone expenses, so you don’t have to shell out for an international call. And if all else fails: Consider it a cost of doing business and deduct the expen

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3. 7 Posts That Will Boost Your Freelance Writing Career

I’ve been seeing a lot of great posts on my favorite writing blogs recently! Here are seven of the best.

1. Saying No to NaNoWriMo

Marla Beck of The Relaxed Writer turns the tables on NaNoWriMo with 3 Reasons NOT to NaNoWriMo. Marla does more than give reasons to skip the event — she also offers a couple of alternatives, including doing it in the summer instead of November.

2. The Most Important Piece of Paper in Your Career

On the Make a Living Writing blog, Carol Tice discusses the importance of contracts with Why Freelance Writers Earn more with This Simple Piece of Paper. (You do work with a contract, right?) A side note: Carol is offering a 4-week Boot Camp on how to make good money writing online that starts November 8 — it’s free to Den members and $97 for non-members. I’ll be speaking on November 15 about query letters!

3. I Like This Post Because I’m 12

My almost-3-year-old boy loves it that fart jokes crack me up. PS Jones has a great post called Confident Freelancing on her blog Diary of a Mad Freelancer. You can’t beat a post that has a subhed “I’d never fart on a client.” Hilarious and on point.

4. Don’t Interview Without It

Over at The Urban Muse, Susan Johnston posts The Freelance Writer’s Interview Checklist. I’ve been hearing from some of my Write for Magazines e-course students that they’re afraid to do interviews, and this handy checklist should help every new writer feel more confident that they’re not forgetting anything important — like testing their recorder or asking the source for photos.

5. Reader Hint: Not Smooshing Bananas = Getting Your Writing Done

At one of my favorite blogs, Path of Possibility, Sage Cohen presents the amusingly-titled but very serious post It’s Never Too Late to Stop Smooshing Bananas. Read it to understand what smooshing bananas has to do with writing when you’re floundering. One great tip: “I was reminded that when you can’t act, planning can be both a satisfying and productive substitute. Can’t write for 2 hours? Spend 2 minutes imagining and outlining what the next 2-hour session will accomplish.”

6. Switching Niches

As someone who is starting (partly) over with my new career as a wellness coach and personal trainer, I enjoyed Steph Auteri’s post How to Start From Scratch with a New Niche on the Freelancedom blog. Quote of the day: “At this point, all the ‘how to boost your libido’ blog posts and mythology-based erotica essays are coming to you. But you know what’s not coming to you? Anything that’s not about your vagina.”

7. Got Clips? Use ‘Em

You’ve got clips — how can you parlay the into more work

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4. My Dirty Little Secret — And 5 Ways to Beat Your Fear of Interviewing Sources

A couple of students in my current Write for Magazines class (next one starts Jan. 9!) have told me that they’re dreading the interview portion of the class, where they find and interview experts to add credibility to their queries.

Here’s where I reveal my dirty little secret: I don’t like interviews, either. By my very rough estimate I’ve done more than 2,000 interviews since 1997, and I still get a little bit of stage fright before each one.

I don’t share this to discourage you, but to let you know that even if you’re afraid of doing interviews, you can get through them and make a great living as a freelance writer. And believe me — the fear becomes much less intense over time.

Here are some of my tips for beating the fear:

1. Come clean.

If I’m interviewing someone on a topic that I don’t feel confident about, I usually just come right out and admit it to break the ice. I say something like, “I’m a newbie to this topic, and most of my readers will be too, so I apologize if some of my questions seem elementary.” I did that just today when interviewing an economist about the Profit Per Employee metric (don’t ask). Zap — tension broken!

2. Be prepared.

Even though I’ve done thousands of these, I never go into an interview without a list of questions. The trick is to write questions that will garner the info you need to bolster your idea and fill in any gape you have in your research. And don’t worry about writing down every single question you can possibly think of asking; write down the main ones and leave room in the conversation to ask questions on the fly. That way, it will be more of a normal conversation than an interrogation.

3. Don’t have an all-or-nothing attitude.

Many writers are afraid that they’ll mess up the interview, not get the info they need, and be stuck. Take heart: If you miss something, you can always go back for more. I like to ask at the end of every interview, “Is it okay if I get back in touch if questions come up as I’m writing this article?” Every single source has said yes — no exceptions. And I often do go back to them with a couple more questions.

4. Remember, sources are people too.

In 14 years I have never, ever (and I mean ever) had an interviewee make fun of me, hang up on me, or otherwise be a jerk. Now, I have had difficult sources like Run-On Ralphs and Product Pluggers, but there are ways to handle them.

5. Read these posts.

Diana and I have posted other tips in the past for helping writers beat their interview fear and get the quotes they need. Do check them out!

Bust My Excuse: I’m Afraid of Interviewing!

Are You a Phone-Phobic Freelancer?

Bust My Excuse: I Don’t Know How to Find Experts — Or Make Them Talk!

How to Deal with Difficult Interviewees

Are you afraid of interviewing? How does it affect your writing career? What have you done about it? Post your expe

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