Other Bookish Things

How to Interview Anyone

*waves* I’m back, and with a post series about interviewing! As a journalism major at my high school, I’ve decided to share some tips. A LARGE amount of journalism is interviewing, but this is ALSO a useful skill for bloggers.

We’ve all heard of Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How, but probably not WWWWWHTE. While 5WH is useful, 5WHTE is really the tool you’ll need for a successful interview.

Who:

Who is an okay question to ask, but it can lead to short, easy answers instead of the info you’re looking for.

Ex: Who ate the cookies?

A: Marnie.

We don’t know why or when Marnie ate the cookies; using ‘who’ in this situation will only lead to more questions. And maybe Marnie didn’t eat the cookies. Maybe she threw them out because she used salt instead of sugar when she made them.

What:

What is a hit-or-miss question, depending on your goal. If you’re interviewing someone about their life, “what” is a good question word.

Ex: What led you to start teaching villains to how to vanquish their archenemies?

A: Well, I got tired of seeing superheroes’ faces plastered on the sides of skyscrapers, like gods of the city, just for doing their job. Villains have been slacking–too many capes, not enough clever schemes. If the superheroes are doing their job, why aren’t we? And when do villains get recognized? So I started V.I.L.E.–Villain Institute for Learning Evil. (and so on)

If you’re asking about an event or how something happened, ‘what’ is okay, but ‘how’ is better.

Ex: What caused the gymnast to break her leg?

A: She didn’t have enough chalk on her gloves and fell off the uneven bars.

When:

The same as ‘what.’ It’s good for asking about a person’s life. as they’ll start to elaborate after getting comfortable with you. In events related to time, you’ll likely get a one-word answer.

Ex: When did the gymnast break her leg?

A: At practice on Thursday.

Where:

‘Where’ questions are pretty rare. They’re good for gently moving a topic without jolting the interviewee with a sudden topic change, but can lead to one-word answers.

Ex: Where do you like to eat in Alabama?

A: Lambert’s.

If the person you’re interviewing is comfortable with you, they might elaborate without you having to ask another question, but generally a ‘where’ has a ‘why’ following it.

Why:

I LOVE ‘why’ questions. They pump people for deeper answers, requiring more than a word to answer. While some people dislike to talk about themselves, their opinions are another matter. If the interviewee is reasonably comfortable with you, you can get a lot of information. Another version of ‘why’ is ‘what do you think about ____?”

Ex: Why do you like strawberry milkshakes?

A: My dad and I are pretty close, and one of my earliest memories is making strawberry milkshakes at home together. It’s his favorite kind of milkshake and now mine too–we both REALLY like strawberries. He told me about getting strawberry malts and milkshakes at a diner when he was younger and I guess I picked up that taste.

How:

Like ‘why,’ ‘how’ is an excellent way to get a story out of someone.

Ex: How did you become a superhero?

A: I was sneaking around my uncle’s office, looking for my phone (he’d taken it), when I found a pot of what I thought was coffee. It was late, so I poured a cup and downed it–I had at least two more hours of homework. Of course, I woke up in the morning and found myself levitating over the bed. Yeah, definitely not coffee.

Tell Me More:

This is more to show the interviewee that you’re listening and interested, but when applied at the right time, the interviewee will be happy to elaborate. ‘Tell Me More About ____’ works well, but don’t abruptly change the interview direction.

“So there I was, eating icecream on the dock, when my future husband pushed me into the lake.”

“Tell me more about your cat.”

Isn’t that jarring? A COMPLETE subject change.

Explain:

This is good if you get lost or want specific details about something. Clarification is key. It can also be used to ask about decisions a person made or get thoughts/emotions behind a story. It’s more commanding than ‘how’ or ‘why,’ so be careful with your tone. The interview is your turn to listen.

Ex: Explain your decision to tightrope across the Grand Canyon.

A: I wanted to do something great, even if it’s just one thing in my lifetime. Plenty of people visit the Grand Canyon, but only a few have tight-roped across it. I wanted to challenge my fear of heights, and this seemed like the perfect way to do it.

Above all, be respectful and actively listen to what a person is saying. Showing you care about what they’re saying will help the interviewee relax and make the interview go smoother on both sides. You don’t have to jump into an interview right away either. Taking time to chat and get comfortable with someone before asking the ‘big questions’ will help both of you relax. Often, a lot of information is gotten before the interview ‘officially’ begins. An interview should be a conversation where one side is doing a lot of the talking.

Stay tuned for the second post in “How to Interview.”

-Kaelyn

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2 thoughts on “How to Interview Anyone

  1. Pingback: 525,600 Minutes

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