Around the world daily, journalists grab their phones or venture out into the field to gather information from sources. They meet and engage with people–either strangers or familiar contacts. They’re dependant on notebooks and writing utensils or some form of recording device. And then they execute two simple tasks: asking questions and listening to responses. An interview has commenced.

If you poll a group of journalists about how they learned to conduct effective interviews, most will tell you it was never explicitly taught to them. More of a nuanced skill refined by trial-and-error than by following a how-to manual, the art of the interview demands an attitude of learning; this rings true in the sense of perfecting the skill itself and being informed by your source.

Cultural Historian, Marc Pachter says in his TED Talk, The Art of The Interview, “The most important job of the interviewer is to feel the interviewee has a story which is important. The interviewer should make the interviewee feel that s/he feels that s/he is sharing something different than is known by the public.”

Sources should feel as though they can talk freely, prompted by questions that are well-researched, insightful, and open-ended. The energy created between interviewer and interviewee is important, facilitating conversations of substance.

To gauge your own interview dynamics, using a voice recorder is an effective tactic to observe your style and to master your reporting chops. Transcribing both questions and answers is revealing; do you ask more conversation stoppers than starters? Cut your subject off just as they’re beginning to open up? Sound like an empathetic, engaging human or an aggressive interrogator?

To be the best reporter possible, study yourself, letting your mishaps and growth areas direct you to enlightening conversations and richer stories.

4 Tips to Ace an Interview

Walking up to strangers, or people who aren’t accustomed to being interviewed, and asking questions can be challenging. How do you get people — reticent police, jargon-rattling experts, everyday people who are shy or nervous to be interviewed — to give you substantial answers? How do you work quotes effectively in your articles?

Cam from Modern Family spinning and saying Can't even talk about it

Below are a few tips we’ve rounded up to make the process as smooth and successful as possible.

1. Do Your Homework

There are many different kinds of journalism: investigative, reviews, long-form pieces, op-eds, columns, obits. While they each require a variety of styles and approaches, they all share one goal: distilling and packaging information in a way that’s digestible and easy for readers to extract insights from.

“The interviewer knows exactly what he wants to get from his interview. He is like a chess player; he does not move a piece — or ask a question — without a purpose, a plan.”
— John Brady, The Craft of Interviewing

To make that happen, journalists need to put the initial legwork in during the research phase. Interview virtuoso, Barbara Walters, never cuts corners when it comes to research. “I do so much homework, I know more about the person than he or she does about himself,” the career journalist says.

Conducting Google searches 15-minutes before the interview, and scribbling down a few questions in your notebook won’t cut it. A certain level of immersion in your topic or subject is necessary. Reading and cataloging documents, contacts, and videos in an organized and searchable manner will help you craft informed questions and give you confidence to direct the conversation with purpose.

Training day quote this shit's chess it ain't checkers

Assuming this view requires reporters to think about the implications of each question. While preparing well-researched questions demands a higher initial investment of time, you’ll see the fruits of your labor clearly during the interview phase and when you have substantial quotes to shape your article.

2. Open Your Eyes

Good journalists listen. Excellent journalists listen and observe with their eyes wide open. Noting non-verbals when your subject responds can be just as, if not more, telling than their spoken response.

Do they get fidgety around certain topics? Do they smirk when asked specific questions? If you’re conducting an on-site interview in someone’s personal space, noting details can provide context and richness to your writing. How is the coffee table arranged? What types of photos are collaged on their fridge? Does the room smell of an unfortunate potpourri of sewage and freshly baked croissants? That’s weird; jot it down.

gif of Jim Carrey looking closely into camera

Using a voice recorder to capture every bit of audio frees you up to be present, observing with other senses.

3. Craft Informed Questions In Advance

The best questions are not only purpose-driven but open-ended. They begin with “How?” “What?” “Where?” “When?” “Why?” They’re conversations-sparkers and catalyze thoughtful answers that produce a wealth of information needed to create a thorough, factual article.

While closed-ended questions are more limited, they support a valuable purpose too. When you need a direct answer, they get straight to the point: “Did you share classified information with a third-party?” Direct questions put people on the record.

The worst questions are conversation stoppers, such as double-barreled questions: Do you think that students should have more classes about history and culture?” This question asks two separate issues: “do you think that students should have more classes about history” and “do you think that students should have more classes about culture?”

gif captioned visible confusion

Merging both questions into one makes it unclear about what specifically is being measured. If each question could elicit a different response separately, there is a strong chance of confusing your source. Double-barreled questions also give subjects a choice that allows them to avoid the question they want to ignore and choose the less difficult one.

4. Share Your Plan

Especially when conversations are flowing swiftly and your source is eager to share, it’s all too easy to forget what you need to extract from the interview. Knowing where you want to start, where you want to end, and the trajectory you need to take to get there will keep you on track. Conversations can derail quickly, and sharing your roadmap with your source from the start will keep things moving in the right direction.

What is the Best Way To Take Notes During An Interview?

Even if you’re you’re ultra-fast with note-taking, it’s challenging to jot down every single word someone says. And you wouldn’t want to. It’s inefficient, distracting, and makes you less engaged on a conversational level with your source.

Homer Simpson confused and asking, can you repeat the part of the stuff where you said all about the things?

Missing key snippets is easy to do, and getting accurate quotes is difficult if you’re relying on a pen and notebook alone. Let a voice recorder capture the facts, so you actively listen and note the most compelling details.

When it comes to knowing what will be valuable to include in your writing, listen for poignant or candid thoughts — words that reveal character, inspire action, or urge readers to keep reading.

The most powerful quotes are brief, sometimes just fragments of speech.

The most powerful quotes are brief, sometimes just fragments of speech. You don’t need to jam-pack your piece with quotes to prove the interview happened. Including everything a source says isn’t writing; it’s dictation. Kevin Maney once said quotations should occupy a “place of honor” in a story.

What is the Best App For Voice Recording?

There are a few apps out there that will record your interviews for you. But none of them are as reliable and easy-to-use are our Rev Voice Recorder. And yes, we’re slightly biased, but a few others (PCMag, iPhoneness, IOSJailBreakHacks, CreditDonkey) agree with us on this one.

Not only can you record, store, and manage top-quality audio straight from your phone, you can also transcribe the audio to text with a tap of a button. Your recordings are transcribed by human transcriptionists with 99% accuracy, then shot back to you via email in 12 hours or less. It’s a game-changer if you’ve been lugging a separate recorder around, transferring files from one device to another.

How to Transcribe Audio to Text?

Once you’ve nailed your interview and have the recording ready to transcribe into text, the work on your end is basically done. Rev.com provides a speedy, easy-to-use, accurate (and cheap!) solution to an otherwise grueling task. Follow these three simple steps to get your video transcription in a snap.

  1. Upload your audio files. Upload your audio files to Rev’s secure, confidential server, or copy/paste a link to the URL.
  2. Let Rev transcriptionists do the work. One of our reliable English-fluent transcriptionists, not software, will transcribe your files. We guarantee at least 99 percent accuracy.
  3. Get your interview transcription. For audio files under 30 minutes in length, expect a turnaround time of less than 12 hours. You’ll receive an interactive online transcript exportable as Microsoft Word, PDF, or plain text.

Rev offers 99 percent accuracy, fast turnaround time, and transparent pricing. Audio transcriptions cost $1.00 per minute, with free speaker identification and no limit to the number of speakers.

You can add timestamps to your audio transcription for an additional $0.25 per minute. Verbatim transcription (which includes all audio, including laughter and pauses) is an additional $0.25 per minute.

All Rev clients can receive the Interactive Transcript player for free! Just grab an embed code from your Rev order page and embed it next to your Kaltura video player. (Currently, interactive transcripts are only available with the Kaltura video player.)

Use Rev to Focus Time on Your Craft

As a busy journalist, time is one of your most valuable commodities. Using a voice recorder and a transcription service like Rev will free you up to refine your reporting skills, so you can be the best interviewer possible. You can study your recorded yourself, then repeat your victories and improve upon your growth areas. If you’re ready to have richer, more productive conversations, give Rev a try today.