Interviewing Experts: After the Session Information is Writer's Gold

Published on
April 20, 2012

Health writers, whether we write for newspapers, magazines, the Internet, or write books, need sources to support their points. Experts are usually the first people we seek. Experienced writers have learned how to interview experts. Less experienced writers often pick up tips on the job. You may have a general list of rules that you follow.

Terry Dunn offers some interview tips in her Web Designability website article, "How to Interview Experts." Be prepared is her first rule, and this preparation includes reading website articles, blog posts, tweets, and Facebook entries. After you have learned more about the person, it is time to move on to questions. "Yes" or "no" questions should be avoided.

"Use open questions, worded to provoke an informative answer," she advises. Dunn thinks the interviewer should compile a list of 100 questions (that's a lot) and pick the top ones. Questions should slot into an interview that lasts 30 to 60 minutes. The interviewer should also offer to promote the interviewee on his or her website, Dunn continues. Interviewees should receive the questions in advance.

"Writing a Book - How to Interview an Expert," an article by Marge McAlister and posted on the Suite 101 website, tells how to expand on questions. You have two main options here, one to create follow-up questions and the other to come up with "different plot scenarios." In other words, you can generate "what if" questions. According to McAlister, fact-checking should be part of the interview. This may be done later by phone, email, or Skype.

"Keep in mind that it takes much longer for someone to respond to questions in print, rather than just talking about a subject," she explains.

Chances are, you're familiar with these tips and may even have tips of your own. But have you heard about the "after the interview" tip? As soon as an interview has concluded, it is common for the interviwer and interviewee to chat for a few minutes. You may thank the interviewee for his or her time, for example, and the interviewee may share some personal information with you.

These minutes are writing gold.

Listen carefully to what the interviewee says--comments that sound like casual asides at first, but often contain additional facts and wisdom. Indeed, the "after the interview" time may give you the title of your piece, a differet slant, and ideas for future writing projects. Daniel Goleman, author of "Emotional Intelligence: Why It can Matter More Than IQ," might say you are using your emotional intelligence after an interview. You are aware of the flow, or as Goleman puts it, "positive, energized, and aligned to the task at hand."

Short as it may be, the time after an interview may be the most beneficial of all.