Interview Tips


Although scholarly sources are extremely helpful and authoritative, they usually fall under the category of secondary sources. On the other hand, interviews almost always count as primary sources and can provide useful information on an individual’s perspective. Here are some tips to help you craft strong interview questions that can elicit useful information.

Do Your Homework

Before you interview a source, you should always research them, their experience, and their expertise. Start with a simple Google search of their name, and then continue researching organizations, topics, or events relevant to them based on the information you need for your story.

Ask Clear Questions

As you begin to write interview questions, ask yourself: Is this question easy to understand? Could I answer it?

Ask Open-Ended Questions

Open-ended questions invite a source to elaborate on their response. For example, you might ask, “Why do you support the Minnesota Vikings?” Respondents usually feel the need to construct full sentences that establish and explain their perspectives. Thus, open-ended questions tend to generate more complete and thoughtful responses.

Order Your Questions

Although you might write your list of interview questions down in the order in which you think of them, take some time after brainstorming those questions to put them in the best order in which to ask them. It is generally helpful to start with some simple, introductory questions that help to ease your respondents into the interview and make them more comfortable. After that, group all questions that pertain to a specific topic or aspect of the story together and complete an entire topic before transitioning to the next set of questions. Structure your interview in a way that guarantees you will get all the information you need while, ideally, sticking to the time estimate you provided for the interview.

Be Flexible

Although you did your research and wrote a list of informed, clear, and well-organized questions, you may find that, during the interview, unanticipated questions start popping into your head. Do not panic! These follow-up questions are natural, and they often provide some of the best information and quotes. Good follow-up questions usually request additional context or explanation and begin with “why” or “how.” It is important to listen carefully so that you can catch and write down potential follow-up questions.

Ask for Clarity

If you find yourself confused or unsure about a key fact or piece of information during the course of your interview, always clarify that information. Ask for an explanation or a simplification. One good way to do this is by summarizing a key point and asking your source if you got the information correct. For example, you might ask: “So, you are saying that if I need to clarify information during an interview, I should take some time to do that with the source. Is that correct?”

Ask the Concluding Question

Once you have asked all the questions you brainstormed — and all the follow-up and clarifying questions that arose during the course of the interview — try to end with a final open-ended question that allows your respondents to share anything else they think they ought to know about the topic. This gives the source a chance to bring up something you or they may have forgotten or simply to contribute information that may be outside of the scope of your questions.



Adapted from Charles Lowe’s and Pavel Zemliansky’s “10.6 Interviews” from Writing Spaces – Readings on Writing by   from LibreText used according to CC BY 4.0.


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UNM Core Writing OER Collection Copyright © 2023 by University of New Mexico is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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