Interviewing basics

Finding an interesting person is just as important as your interview topic. A dull interviewee can make even the most interesting topic boring. If your guest is not a good talker… move on and find someone else.

How do you know if someone is a good talker? You talk to them! Always do a pre-interview with the person you intend to record with to see what they have to say about a subject and how they talk about it. Don’t assume based on someone’s job title that they’re the right person to interview.

Once you find the right person to interview here are some things to think about:

  • Do your homework. Research the issue and be familiar with the background and perspective of the person you are interviewing.
  • Prepare a list of points you want answered by the interviewee.
  • Go into the interview with an open mind.
  • Start the interview by getting the interviewee to say and spell his or her name, organization and title, if applicable.
  • Get factual information from the interviewee by making sure you get the journalistic questions answered:  who, what, why, where, when and how.
  • Ask open-ended questions. Do not ask questions that can be answered with a yes or no.
  • Be succinct and specific. Remember, the point of the interview is to get answers from the interviewee, not to hear you talk.
  • Ask one question a time. Don’t ask two-prong questions or questions that are overly broad.  They don’t elicit good answers.
  • Always ask for specifics and examples. Don’t let the interviewee give broad or vague answers.
  • Use silences effectively. Don’t be in a hurry to rush in with another question.  Silence might prompt the interviewee to keep talking and say something meaningful.
  • Ask again and again. If you haven’t heard a good answer to a question, ask again later in the interview in a different way.   Sometimes the answers are more cogent after the person has answered it before.
  • Be an aggressive listener. Give your interviewee your full attention.   Make eye contact with your subject. Pay attention to the spirit of what the subject is saying, not just the facts and specific details.  Listen for comments that need elaboration.
  • Control the interview. Don’t let the interviewee ramble or get off-topic.  Gently interrupt and guide the interview back to your focus.

About This Site

This is a resource hub to help student reporters at the Annenberg Media Center.

If you’re new to the Media Center, check out this one-page guide to see what it’s all about.

Contact the Media Center

Media Center Director, Professor Christina Bellantoni
(213) 740-3874

Annenberg Media Executive Editor, Nataly Joseph

Annenberg Media Assignment Desk:
(213) 740-3847

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(213) 740-5739