Good writing is built on substantive details that come from asking the right questions.
With a deadline looming, writers often panic upon discovering that they are missing important information. Perhaps they forgot particular details during their research, or maybe they didn’t prepare adequately before talking to important sources.
Interviewing, a key part of gathering the information you need, is an overlooked skill that is essential to communications pros and to all business professionals who want to produce messages that have an impact. Whether you are writing an article, a news release, a status report, or a significant email, you need substantive details that peers and experts can provide. People usually don’t think of that conversation as an interview, but they should.
Here are a few suggestions to help you get the most out of the conversation:
Do the advance work – Before you grab the phone to call an expert or an executive, or before you conduct a face-to-face interview, be clear on what you need to learn. Too many people rush into the conversation with a couple of questions in their mind, then discover later several questions they didn’t ask, because they had not thought about the topic enough to ask all the questions they needed answered.
Ask important questions early – You never know when your conversation will be interrupted by another call or an imminent meeting that your source needs to attend. Don’t be caught with a list of 10 questions, with numbers eight and nine the most important, and the interview ends at number six.
Ask questions that yield solid information – Questions that begin with how, why, and what will often elicit the kind of specific details you need. Avoid asking fact-sheet questions, which begin with when, where, and occasionally what. They waste the interviewee’s time, and you can answer them by doing your homework.
Press for specifics – Generalities are vague and therefore don’t engage readers. Vagueness often raises additional questions you will need to deal with later when the reader asks for an explanation.
Don’t end the interview until you are clear about any questions raised in your mind during the conversation. When interviewing someone, write or type in a “Q” in front of any sentence that needs explanation, then review your notes in search of a “Q” before you hang up or leave the room.
Effective interviewing enables you to provide solid facts, statistics, descriptive details, context, history, and insightful quotes. They are the fabric of good writing.
To improve the clarity and efficiency of your email writing be sure to register for our next webinar, June 2nd.
Ken O’Quinn is a professional writing coach and former Associated Press writer who conducts corporate workshops on business writing, persuasive writing, and corporate communications writing. He is the author of Perfect Phrases for Business Letters (McGraw-Hill), which is available at here at Amazon.com.