Researching a term
paper and researching for a journalistic article are slightly
different as a journalist will interview people for their article.
This process gives
the journalist a chance to get information straight from the
When a skilled journalist does an interview, it sounds almost
effortless. You would think he or she was just sitting down for
a chat with an old friend.
But there's a lot going on behind the casual conversation.
The journalist has done research on the topic, decided what he/she
needs to know and has come up with a list of questions to ask
Think of an interview
as a conversation with a purpose. Your job is not just to talk
but to leave the interview knowing the answers to some specific
ready for the interview
Would you walk
out onto the stage during a school concert and start singing
without knowing the melody or the lyrics of the song? Probably
not - unless you wanted the audience to laugh! Well, the same
holds true for an interview.
some things you can do before an interview:
1. Start by doing
some reading on the topic.
- Surf the Web (using your school's
guidelines for searching the internet)
- Check out newspaper articles
- Go to the library
- Find out what has happened in the
- What the current developments are
and what's expected to happen soon.
- You may also want to know what's
going on in other cities, provinces or countries.
2. Decide on
a focus for your story.
- Figure out who you need to interview.
- Who can give them the facts and
- Who will help them put a human face
on the story?
- Write down the questions you want
to ask the person during the interview. (See section on Asking
the Right Questions)
is a good idea for you to call people on the phone and set up
a personal interview. Interviews tend to work best face-to-face
because you can observe the person's expressions and gestures
and you can see the place where the person lives or works.
However, there will be times when you won't have time to meet
with a source in person because of time or distance. That's when
a phone interview can also work. You must be clear at the start
of the phone conversation that you are doing an interview and
would like to use your source's comments in a story.
As a last resort, you can interview people via e-mail. However,
keep in mind that people don't often write the same way they
speak so you may wind up with quotes that sound stiff and unnatural.
Plus, by sending a list of questions, you give the interviewee
control of the interview.
In doing the interview by email, you decide which questions
you want answered and in what order. Then it is left to your
source to decide how much detail information to offer you. In
person, you can follow up immediately and ask for more information.
4. Asking the
Your goal as an
interviewer is to get another person to speak openly and share
relevant information and opinions. Some kinds of questions will
help them do this and some will make it harder to get the information
and comments they need.
Here are some of
the most common types of questions that journalists ask and which
ones work best:
encourage the person to talk and share their thoughts and
feelings on a subject. It allows them to tell their own story
without much prompting from the reporter. For example, here's
what a you could ask a boy who rescued his little sister from
drowning in a river:
"What were you thinking when you saw your sister
struggling in the water?"
You have opened things up for the boy to tell his own story
of the rescue. That question will probably get a more interesting
and complete answer than a question like this:
"You must have been terrified to see your sister
struggling in the water, were you?"
The second question is known as a closed
question, probably because it doesn't help a interviewee
to open up! Closed questions usually prompt a person to answer
with a simple "yes" or "no". However, keep
in mind that it can be the right questions to ask at certain
points in an interview. They help you pin down important information
and get a definite answer.
"Mr. Brown, did you take the money from the school
At this point, Mr. Brown will have to say "yes"
or "no", which is something you will need to know in
order to write your story.
Many reporters believe that they must take a tough approach
to their interviews to get people to answer their questions.
But the opposite is often true. That's where neutral
questions come in. A neutral question is straight-forward.
It doesn't have the reporter's opinion in it. They aren't assuming
they know the answer already. The question is clear and gets
right to the point. In return, the reporter will probably get
an informative answer.
Principal Smith, why has the school decided to cancel
the Senior Prom for this year?
That's more effective than a question like this:
Ms. Smith, why have you ruined graduation celebrations
for the students by axing the Senior Prom?
The second question has what are known as loaded
words words that leave people with a distinct
and often negative impression. That can prompt your source to
get defensive or to disagree with your question and that
won't help you get an answer to your question!
do just what you'd think they do they try to lead an interviewee
in a certain direction.
include two or more parts. Reporters often ask them in order
to get as much as they can from their interview or their opportunity
to speak at a news conference. But they don't always work that
Mr. Jones, will students be allowed to ride the skateboards
in the school parking lot next year and why does the school need
to hire security guards to supervise the school grounds after
Principal Jones may not hear both questions and may only answer
one. Or he may choose to answer only one. And that means you
have to try again to get your question answered. It's usually
better to ask each question separately and get a complete answer.
help you make sure you have all the information you need. You
can ask your source questions like this to end the interview
and clarify information he/she has given you during the course
of your conversation. That way, you can tie up loose ends before
leaving the interview -- not when you sit down to write!
"Is there anything else I should have asked you?"
"Let me be sure I have everything...."
"So, as I understand it, there are three main issues here...."
5. Keeping notes
When it comes to recording a person's interview,
you have several options. You can write down the information
you get in a notebook or record the interview on audio or video
Here are some tips you can use for
- Focus on the interviewee and concentrate on what's being
- Write down the important details as fast as you can.
- Come up with your own shorthand for words.
- Read your notes right after the interview to refresh your
- Fill in any blank spaces in your notes.
- Try recording the interview on tape and taking notes.
That allows you to concentrate on the person's answers instead
of note-taking. However, you can make a note of where an important
fact or quote occurs in the interview. That will save you time
later when you are going back through your tape.