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Content Writing Tips: 9 Tips for Conducting Successful Customer Interviews

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Last week, in a post that shared research tips for content developers, we wrote that while most content developers likely do most of our research online, interviews can result in engaging content.

8 tips to make your interviews more successful

1. Craft a thoughtful request – “Quite often I am interviewing industry professionals who are the top of their game, in an industry that is new to me,” writes Paula Heikell, of Heikell Communications.

“Without fail, these are highly engaged individuals with full calendars, so don’t expect them to be available ‘same day.’ I’ve found I get the best results by preparing a short email to introduce myself and a brief synopsis of the project. I often include a few samples of my other work to give them an idea of what they can expect. Most often, they’ll respond with a clear yes or no.”

2. Do your advance work – “One of the best things you can do to show appreciation for your source’s time is to come prepared with informed and thoughtful questions,” according to Blake Boldt at Parthenon.

“They’ll appreciate the fact that you’ve showed interest in what they do and what they know – and will feel more comfortable and relaxed as a result. The key is to be simple and clear about what you need and then let the discussion happen naturally.”

3. Craft great questions – “The best questions are open-ended,” writes Chip Scanlan at Poynter. “They begin with ‘How?’ ‘What?’ ‘Where?’ ‘When?’ ‘Why?’ They’re conversation starters and encourage expansive answers that produce an abundance of information needed to produce a complete and accurate story.”

Venerable television and radio interviewer Larry King puts the emphasis on the “why”: “You gotta ask ‘why’ questions. ‘Why did you do this?’ A ‘why’ question you can’t answer with one word.’”

4. Put the ‘client’ at ease – At Writer’s Digest, Alex Palmer compares interviewing to therapy. “First-time therapy client — and interviewees – tend to be a bit nervous before their initial sessions,” he writes.

He says it’s up to you, as the interviewer, to relax your subject, which is usually not all that difficult. Palmer quotes psychologist Barton Goldsmith on the subject: “Calming their fears can be as easy as asking them a few innocuous questions first. Everyone loves to talk about themselves. The number-one way to draw people out is to give them room to do that.”

5. Be patient– “When the subject seems to complete a response to a question, do not immediately move on to the next question, whether scripted or thought up at the time,” writes Mark Nichol at Daily Writing Tips.

“Continue to be attentive, and patiently await more information. Sometimes, the postscript to a response is the best part. Likewise, when the interview is over, and the subject is more relaxed, take advantage of an opportunity to ask a casual question or two or to comment about something he or she said earlier.”

6. Be alert for great quotes – “Direct quotes establish credibility, express personality and add color to written work,” writes the Tehama Group. “Being mindful of possible quotes during an interview will save you a lot of time in the writing process.

When your source says something particularly helpful, interesting or entertaining, glance at your recorder and jot down the time elapsed. This way it’ll be easy to replay that part of the conversation and get a strong, accurate quote for your piece.”

7. Listen actively – “This is the most important of all interviewing tips,” according to The Nonfiction Writing Guide. “Focus on what your subject is saying, not on your next question. Make eye contact. Lean toward your subject. Listen to them as you would like others to do for you when you speak. It is amazing what you will hear if you are actively listening.”

8. Work your flow – “You want to strike a balance between a conversation (which helps make your subject feel comfortable and aids candor) and getting the job done,” writes Sarah Stuteville at Matador Network.

“As your subject is answering your question, be thinking about what you’ll ask next and why. The flow of questions needs to seem natural and conversational – don’t spin your subject off on a completely different topic just because that’s the next question on your list. Think about segues and transitions.”

  1. Combine email and personal interviews – “Email interviews are easier to create than typical posts,’’ writes Andy Crestodina at Orbit Media.

“They also spark a bit of social activity, helping with promotion.” He’s identified five types of email interviews, which he describes here. Consider using an email interview to collect facts, and following up with a phone call or meeting to fill in the blanks, generate quotes and add context.

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