Add the Perspective of an Expert to Your Next Writing Project
Working on a class assignment, thesis paper, article, or blog post? Interviewing a subject matter expert can help provide in-depth and unique perspectives on an issue. Securing an interview takes time and preparation, but the results are worthwhile.
Even the most experienced news reporter can tell you that conducting a great interview takes skill and preparation. Leischen Stelter writes articles about issues and trends relevant to professionals in emergency management, law enforcement, fire services, and national security for American Public University System’s InPublicSafety blog and other publications. Before that she was managing editor of Security Director News, an online business publication.
Stelter regularly includes expert interviews in her writing and offers these six tips. As you cover these bases, be sure to keep the interview conversational for the best back and forth flow with your expert.
- Do your homework. You don’t have to know everything about a topic, but it’s helpful to have some knowledge so you can ask the right questions. If an interviewee spends the majority of the interview trying to explain the basics to you, you may not have time to get to more in-depth topics.
- Do the interview in person or over the phone. Stelter finds that email interviews rarely lead to interesting quotes. When people write their responses they tend to spend too much time making things sound polished. Spoken words are much more dynamic and interesting.
- Prepare questions in advance. Prepare questions that address the key points you are covering in your writing. It may be interesting to find relevant news or current events to help apply an expert’s knowledge and make it relevant and timely to the reader. Follow the list of questions to make sure you get all the information you need. Ask at the end of if there’s anything that the expert would like to add or any questions you should have asked.
- Start with the basics. Start off an interview by asking for some background about the person and how he or she got into a field. “It’s relatively easy for people to talk about themselves and it often puts the interviewee at ease in the beginning,” Stelter advises. Ask for an overview of the subject of the interview. “Asking general questions often provides good quotes and can also help start the interview off strongly,” Stelter says.
- Allow for the unexpected. “It’s important to remain flexible and not go into an interview being too rigid about how you want that piece to turn out,” Stelter advises. “Remember, the person you’re interviewing knows a lot more about the topic than you, so let their expertise help shape the piece.” She does caution to not let an interviewee get too sidetracked; be sure that what they’re talking about is contributing to the piece and not just a tangent — if it is a tangent use your prepared questions to get back on track.
- Get more than quotes. Ask the expert for suggested resources like articles, newspapers, and research studies on the topic to potentially incorporate into your writing. This can save you a lot of time hunting down resource material and experts often have materials easily accessible.
As you talk with the expert, be sure to ask for examples when something isn’t clear. The examples they offer will help your understanding and may prove to be useful for your writing too; examples are a great way to put information in context so people can better understand the topic.
With a little preparation, the time taken to find and interview an expert is sure to add an interesting dimension to your next writing project.