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Researching Lowell

Why Interview

Interviewing someone who has specific experience or who is in a position that imparts special knowledge is another important sources of information. In addition to etiquette factors there are general techniques used by journalists that can be useful to guide individuals new to the interview process.

General Etiquette

  • Call and make an appointment with the person for a face to face interview.
  • During the initial call explain who you are, why you want the interview and what  will be done with the information you get.
  • The person might want to know what questions you'll be asking, so have your questions ready in advance.
  • Be prepared both with your questions and a paper & pen to make notes, just in case the person wants to do a telephone interview right then and there.
  • If your're thinking of recording the interview, be sure you first clear it with the person you're interviewing in advance.
  • Be on time and dressed appropriately. Remember you want the person to take you seriously and not feel they are wasting their time.
  • If the person sets a time limit to the interview, keep to it by being prepared with your questions and monitoring the time.
  • Be polite and neutral. Avoid having an accusatory or antagonistic tone.
  • Before leaving the interview, be sure to scan your notes. If anything is unclear, ask the person right then and there.
  • Be sure to thank the person for his/her time both initially and at the end of the interview..

Interview Questions

Most interviews seek to achieve one or more of the following goals:

  1. Obtain the interviewee's knowledge about the topic
  2. Obtain the interviewee's opinion and/or feelings about the topic
  3. Feature the interviewee as the subject

It's important that you know exactly why you are conducting an interview and which goal(s) you are aiming for. Stay focused on questions and techniques which will achieve them.

Do your homework. You will be expected to have a basic knowledge of your subject. Do not roll up to an interview with a band and ask them how many albums they have released — you should know this already. If you show your ignorance, you lose credibility and risk being ridiculed. At the very least, the subject is less likely to open up to you.

Have a list of questions. It seems obvious but some people don't think of it. While you should be prepared to improvise and adapt, it makes sense to have a firm list of questions which need to be asked.

Of course many interviewees will ask for a list of questions before hand, or you might decide to provide one to help them prepare. Whether or not this is a good idea depends on the situation. For example, if you will be asking technical questions which might need a researched answer, then it helps to give the subject some warning. On the other hand, if you are looking for spontaneous answers then it's best to wait until the interview.

Try to avoid being pinned down to a preset list of questions as this could inhibit the interview. However, if you do agree to such a list before the interview, stick to it.

Ask the subject if there are any particular questions they would like you to ask.

Back-cut questions may be shot at the end of a video interview. Make sure you ask the back-cut questions with the same wording as the interview — even varying the wording slightly can sometimes make the edit unworkable. You might want to make notes of any unscripted questions as the interview progresses, so you remember to include them in the back-cuts.

Listen. A common mistake is to be thinking about the next question while the subject is answering the previous one, to the point that the interviewer misses some important information. This can lead to all sorts of embarrassing outcomes.

Open Ended Questions

Open-Ended Questions

The ability to ask open-ended questions is very important in many vocations, including education, counselling, mediation, sales, investigative work and journalism.

An open-ended question is designed to encourage a full, meaningful answer using the subject's own knowledge and/or feelings. It is the opposite of a closed-ended question, which encourages a short or single-word answer. Open-ended questions also tend to be more objective and less leading than closed-ended questions (see next page).

Open-ended questions typically begin with words such as "Why" and "How", or phrases such as "Tell me about...". Often they are not technically a question, but a statement which implicitly asks for a response.


Closed-Ended Question Open-Ended Question
Do you get on well with your boss? Tell me about your relationship with your boss.
Who will you vote for this election? What do you think about the two candidates in this election?
What colour shirt are you wearing? That's an interesting coloured shirt you're wearing.

How do you feel?

Perhaps the most famous (or infamous) open-ended question is "How does this make you feel?" or some variation thereof. This has become a cliché in both journalism and therapy. The reason it is so widely used is that it's so effective.

In journalism, stories are all about people and how they are affected by events. Audiences want to experience the emotion. Even though modern audiences tend to cringe at this question, it's so useful that it continues to be a standard tool.

In psychology, feelings and emotions are central to human behaviour. Therapists are naturally keen to ask questions about feelings.