10 Interview Tips For Journalists
Posted by Ruth Graham


  1. Don’t agree or disagree with your interviewee when they’re making a statement, talking about someone or slagging them off! Just stay open, use questions like : “Oh – how did you come to that conclusion?” rather than ‘Why do you think that?’ They’ll be much more open if you come across as not at all aggressive or combative.
  1. When You’re Interviewing – Don’t Just write – Listen!
    Too many rookie journalists worry about taking down every word verbatim. If it’s a conversational kind of interview, then listen. Be genuinely interested – this way you’ll a) think of things to ask back b) are more likely to retain the information and understand it. Of course – take down facts, figures, dates, times, technical information – anything you won’t retain. But if it’s a story someone is telling you – then listen and enjoy it. We can all recount things we’ve heard down at the pub – it’s the same principle.
  1. When the interview has finished – check to make sure your subject is happy for you to contact them again if you need any clarification.

4. Always keep your notes. There’s nothing worse than taking notes on a scrap of paper, and then losing them. Be organised and take down your notes/case studies and contact details on an A4 pad. This way, nothing is going to get lost.  And when the  pads are finished – keep them for a couple of years. You never know when you’re  going to need to refer back to something, or contact someone again.

  1. Date the top of your pages in the pad. This is a really good was to reference where your notes are. It saves you flicking wildly through to find something. If you can see the date, you can quickly work out whether you need to flick backwards for forwards.
  1. Key Your Copy. Do what? It’s easier than it sounds. If you’re taking down a rambling interview, and the subject darts all over the place, it’s hard to keep track. They talk about their childhood, then leap to their latest invention, then their school, their current job, and then back to childhood. Just take a deep breath, make sure you get the story, and then when you get home grab a coffee, sit down with some coloured pens and mark up the copy, according to subject matter. Maybe A will represent any stories about school. B can represent the job, C make be about the invention.
    When you’ve finished, the copy will be littered with letters, but you’ll know where all the school/childhood/invention/job stories are, and it will be easier to shape up your writing.
  1. Put a line through your copy when it’s written up. If you’re working through the interview and you’ve used up what’s been said, then put a pencil line through it. It will save you re-reading or mixing up the stuff again.
  1. Have a nice selection of opening gambits available. You need to draw in the reader. If you’re stuck – see my next blog for ideas (TWENTY GREAT OPENING LINES FOR CONTENT WRITERS)
  1. Don’t let your interviewee change your writing. Don’t let your interviewee have the right to change or edit your work. The more famous they are, the more difficult this will be, but at the beginning just send it for approval but make it clear this is only to ensure facts are correct – not for the subject to start moving your work around or inserting their own words.
  1. Check and check again. Spelling, grammar – usage of words. Never be over-confident that you’ve got it all right without doing this. As a rookie writer I once interviewed a lovely man in a furniture shop, who had a beautiful Egyptian-style piece of furniture for sale (like the Egyptian ‘mummy’ shapes). I happily described him as having an Egyptian Oesophagus for sale…. (I’ll leave you to work that one out)…..