Everything You Need to Know About Interviewing

Interviewing is one of the most basic - and often the most intimidating - tasks in journalism. Some reporters are natural-born interviewers, while others never get entirely comfortable with the idea of asking strangers nosy questions. The good news is that basic interviewing skills can be learned, starting right here. These articles contain everything you need to know about the equipment and techniques needed to conduct a good interview.

The Basic Techniques

Politician talking into reporters' microphones
Robert Daly/OJO Images/Getty Images

Conducting interviews for news stories is an important skill for any journalist. A “source” – anyone a journalist interviews - can provide the following elements that are vital to any news story, including basic factual information, perspective, and context on the topic being discussed and direct quotes. To start, do as much research as you can and prepare a list of questions to ask. Once the interview starts, try to establish a rapport with your source, but don’t waste your time. If your source starts to ramble on about things that are clearly of no use to you, don’t be afraid to gently – but firmly – steer the conversation back to the topic at hand.

The Tools You'll Need: Notebooks vs. Recorders

microphone, pencil and note pad
Michal_edo / Getty Images

It's an old debate among print journalists: Which works better when interviewing a source, taking notes the old-fashioned way or using a cassette or digital voice recorder? Both have their pros and cons. A reporter's notebook and a pen or pencil are the easy-to-use, time-honored tools of the interviewing trade, while recorders enable you to get literally everything someone says, word-for-word. Which works better? It depends on what kind of story you're doing.

Using Different Approaches for Different Kinds of Interviews

Journalist Interviewing an Aerial Acrobat at Rehearsal
Gideon Mendel / Getty Images

Just as there are many different kinds of news stories, there are many different kinds of interviews. It's important to find the right approach, or tone, depending on the nature of the interview. So what kind of tone should be used in different interviewing situations? The conversational and easygoing approach is best when you're doing a classic man-on-the-street interview. Average people are often nervous when approached by a reporter. An all-business tone is effective, though, when you're interviewing people who are accustomed to dealing with reporters.

Take Great Notes

Taking Notes
webphotographeer / Getty Images

Many beginning reporters complain that with a notepad and pen they can never take down everything a source says in an interview, and they worry about writing fast enough in order to get quotes exactly right. You always want to take the most thorough notes possible.

But you’re not a stenographer; you don’t have to take down absolutely everything a source says. Keep in mind that you’re probably not going to use everything they say in your story. So don’t worry if you miss a few things here and there.

Choose the Best Quotes

Per-Anders Pettersson / Getty Images

So you’ve done a long interview with a source, you have pages of notes, and you’re ready to write. But chances are you’ll only be able to fit a few quotes from that lengthy interview into your article. Which ones should you use? Reporters often talk about using only “good” quotes for their stories, but what does this mean? Broadly speaking, a good quote is when someone says something interesting, and says it in an interesting way.

mla apa chicago
Your Citation
Rogers, Tony. "Everything You Need to Know About Interviewing." ThoughtCo, Sep. 3, 2021, thoughtco.com/all-about-interviewing-2073905. Rogers, Tony. (2021, September 3). Everything You Need to Know About Interviewing. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/all-about-interviewing-2073905 Rogers, Tony. "Everything You Need to Know About Interviewing." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/all-about-interviewing-2073905 (accessed May 29, 2023).