Interviewing Experts: How Do You Know What to Ask?

http://www.freelancewritinggigs.com/2008/11/interviewing-experts-how-do-you-know-what-to-ask/

by Deborah Ng

Today I received an interesting comment to my post 10 Freelance Writing Multitasks. Nina asked:

Thanks for the list, those are excellent tips. But my question is, when you are interviewing an expert, how do you know what questions to ask? Do you have any pointers on asking the right questions?

That’s a very good question, with some very good answers. Many writers hesitate to interview experts or well-known people because they think they won’t know what to ask. If you know your subject well, the questions will be plentiful and you won’t run out of things to talk about.

Who is the expert and why is she there?

First and foremost, there had to be a reason you asked this person for an interview, right? You felt she had something to offer your project. You wouldn’t have called her if you didn’t think she could answer your questions and those of your readers.  List all of your reasons for inviting the expert for the interview and create questions based on your list.

Do your homework

Even if your interview subject is a famous name, it’s still a good idea to do your homework. If he wrote a book , read it. If he has a website or blog, take it all in. Give him a Google and learn about charitable projects, childhood stories, amusing anecdotes, current projects and more. Did someone write a book about this person? What is he famous for? Research this person and think about why he would be of interest to your readers.

What would your readers want to know?

If you’re interviewing this person for a blog or website, let your readers know in advance and ask them if they have any questions. You’d be surprised at what they will come up with – all good questions too!

Think about the questions your readers most often ask of you. Why would this expert be of interest to them?

Questions based on answers

You’ll also think of questions as the interview is in progress. Your interview subject will probably offer answers that will require more questions. Keep a pad handy so you can quickly jot down any new questions that come along.

Many people pass up interviews with some pretty cool people because they don’t think they know what to ask. I’ve come to learn thinking of questions is a lot easier than we think. The problem is more one of confidence. If we know this person is a good fit for our project and we do enough research, our problem won’t be having enough questions to ask, it will more likely be finding enough time to ask all of our questions.

Comments

  1. All good advice, and I would add one thing. Besides making a list of the things you are curious about, and your reader wants to know, go against expectations. Everybody asks Bill Gates how he got started with computers. Ask him instead what his favorite kind of car is and why. Interviewing a celebrity known as an airhead? Ask his opinion on a serious subject. Interviewing a serious scholar? Ask about her first pet.

  2. Thanks so much. I’m glad to have found this article because I actually have to interview some local business owners for an article today and it’s not something I’m used to at all. I am extremely nervous about doing it.

    On a related note, I also want to mention that I find the site to be a great resource. While it’s true when I visit the site I look at the job postings first, I eventually read a lot of the other posts and find them extremely helpful, even though I don’t always comment.

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