Email Interviews vs Phone Interviews

Picture 6Interviews are an integral part of article writing. An article won’t survive the sniff test if it doesn’t have a few quotes and information provided by an outside source. I’m still a firm believer that the best interview is the face-to-face interview. Sharing the same space with your source, seeing facial expressions, hand gestures, etc. is priceless, but most writers can’t travel around the world to interview sources so phone and emails help get the job done. There is a big difference between the two and writers should be aware of the pros and cons of both when setting up interviews with their sources.

Email Interview Pros

  • Quick and convenient for both the interviewer and source. Email interviews allow writers to shoot off their questions and move on to their next project while giving sources the opportunity to answer at their leisure.
  • Easy record keeping. Using email gives you a ready-made record of the interview for future reference.
  • Cure for cold feet. Writers are notoriously shy when it comes to interviewing sources whether in person or over the phone. Email helps eliminate that problem.

Email Interview Cons

  • Loss of spontaneity. Some of the best moments in an interview come from being in the moment with the source and you lose that through email. When responding to email questions, your source can reread what they wrote and even forward it on to others to make sure they are saying the ‘right’ things.
  • Loss of identity. Many writers assume when they email questions to a source the source is the one answering. Often, the questions may be answered by a source, PR person or the source’s boss or assistant. You are never guaranteed the source is the one responding.
  • Loss of experience. Using email as the main source of interviews stunts your growth as a writer. While many writers view the interviewing process as a necessary evil, it really does help you grow each time you engage a source.

Emails Interviews vs. Phone Interviews Part 2 to come on Saturday!

Related Articles

How to Lose Control of an Interview

The Art of a Yes/No Question in an Interview

Seducing a Reluctant Source


  1. Phil says

    Unless no other option is available, in my opinion, e-mail interview are terrible. I’ve been around long enough that I’ve been asked to do interviews via fax. Problem still the same: No chance for follow-ups without more back and forth on e-mail.

    Too often, an answer to a question isn’t complete, or is ambiguous (intentionally or unintentionally), or just naturally leads to another question. In advanced journalism, they talked about tunnel sequences, funnel sequences and other sequences of questions. The follow-ups need to change depending on intial responses.

    Additionally, interview subject may not take the time to answer the e-mail, and could well be inclined to give short, abrupt responses that don’t really answer the question.

    Granted, some are hestitant in phone interviews, too, because they’ve been burned by the press (I’ve had editors who have had axes to grind and have changed copy to do just that), or they’re just not comfortable on the phone. That’s not an issue for me because I’m not involved in investigative journalism — I write primarily for B2B trade press — so I can paraphase poorly spoken responses into proper English. This often takes a “do you mean…?” follow-up question, particularly because I interview a lot of people who may not have English as a first language, or are using highly technical terms that I have to “de-geek” for readership.

  2. says

    Email interviews can be very static.

    Phone interviews can result in laborious post-interview work, having to go through audio. What if you want to publish the transcript? That can be a nightmare.

    I happened to have been in a situation where I was required to conduct a large number of interviews and, neither of the two would have solved my challenge of having to visit each interviewee.

    Eventually I started using VIO, an inhouse software that allows us to conduct interviews online in a live session. The interviewer is able to view the entire conversation so they can modify questions to suit the context, but the interviewee only sees one question at a time and answers as they go along.

    That’s the only way it would’ve worked for me, and I’ve had success.


    Try it and tell me what you think.
    Desmond Campbell´s last blog post ..Hello world!


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