|Photo credit: GaborfromHungary from morguefile.com|
Here's a checklist to help you make the most of your interview with any expert.
(Not convinced interviewing is useful? Check out my posts "The Limits of Google Research" and "Expertise is Everywhere: Why and How to Use Interviews to Research Fiction")
Research the topicSpend some time reading up a bit on the topic you hope to ask your expert about. This will help you get a rudimentary grasp of key concepts and enable you to focus your questions most effectively.
Prepare your goals ahead of timeIt’s helpful to have a general purpose planned ahead—-a sense of what you want to get out of the interview. This will help you develop the most relevant questions and keep you on topic. But don’t hold so tightly to your preconceptions about an interviewee’s knowledge base that you miss the opportunity to get great insider information you had no idea existed.
Develop questionsThe best questions are open-ended, conversation starters that encourage expansive answers. They begin with “How?” “What?” “Where?” “When?” “Why?” Try the Starburst technique discussed in THIS post, paired with your research, to develop questions that will get you the information you need.
Keep in mind that short questions are better than long, multi-part ones. The latter are likely to cause the interviewee to only partially answer.
OverprepareIt’s a good idea to prepare roughly twice as many questions as you expect to need, just in case the interviewee is a quick talker or claims ignorance about a topic (or refers you elsewhere for an answer). Having too many questions will also to give you added confidence that you’ll never be at a loss for topics.
Organize your questions from most important to least so that if the interview is cut short due to an interruption, you’ll get the most essential answers first.
Find a good locationAvoid noisy coffee shops (unless you’re interviewing the shop owner or a barista). Try instead to interview in a place that has some relevance to your story or your subject, like their home, workplace or place where they use their expertise. You’ll gain a further sense of context, and your expert will likely feel more comfortable (and open) in a familiar place.
Test your equipmentIt’s a good idea to make an audio recording. Your notes are never going to be 100 percent accurate. Neither is your memory. And recording frees you up to have a more natural conversation. If anything the subject says raises questions you hadn’t thought of, you’re more able to follow up than if you’re busy scribbling everything the person says.
That said, be sure to rehearse with your recording device before you meet up with your interviewee. Figure out how close the mic needs to be to pick up both voices, and ensure the device has adequate power or batteries to last the entire time.
(Ready to go? Tips on conducting fiction interviews are available HERE)
What kind of expertise would help you with your current project?