The Trick to Interviewing Sources for Content
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The Trick to Interviewing Sources for Content

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Whether it’s a ghost-written piece, quotes for an article, or information about a company’s services, creating content often means talking to subject matter experts, and usually by phone. One of the main things I’ve learned from interacting with countless sources is how busy they are. Here are some ways I’ve become respectful of their time while still getting the information I need:

  • Do the research ahead of time. The more you know about an industry or a source prior to the interview, the less time you’ll waste asking unnecessary questions. Google the industry and become familiar with the lingo. Look at the source’s LinkedIn profile to view previous work experience. Review marketing materials if available, and any applicable websites.
  • Make your questions count. Questions should focus on information you don’t have. The best questions are those that require an explanation. These are questions that start with why, what, when, how and where, not simple yes or no answers. I always ask for examples, especially for concepts that are more complex.
  • Keep multiple interviews short. I had to write a fixed-rate article last year that entailed talking to four sources.  One interview had to take place on site, so that was scheduled for an hour. The rest of the interviews took 10 minutes or less. Knowing that each person would probably appear in the article with a paragraph and one quote, I was highly motivated to keep things brief.
  • Be ready when they call. I try to have all my ducks in a row as soon as I send out a request for an interview. The reason is some sources are available immediately. For one recent article, a source from the RAND Corporation called me from a cab on the way to the airport. He was on East Coast time, and I was eating breakfast when he called. Fortunately, I had all my questions ready to go in a Word document.
  • Offer your schedule when setting up interviews. It’s tough when everyone is on a different email client to see each other’s schedules. I usually tell a source that I have certain times available the following week and let them decide what works for them. That makes it easy to nail down a time. However, I have writing friends who use TimeTrade  or ScheduleOnce to make scheduling time easy.
  • Keep an eye on the clock. I watch the time while interviewing someone, and I keep the introductory chit chat brief. I also try to move the interview along if it hits a snag or the source takes a detour. When our time is up, I acknowledge the end of the interview. I also like to leave time for the project’s next steps.

Being time-sensitive with sources is a sign of respect. It is possible to honor their schedules by being prepared and keeping emails to a minimum.

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Bonnie Nicholls
Bonnie Nicholls is a freelance writer specializing in thought leadership content: case studies, articles, white papers/ebooks and blog posts. She supports industries such as Agile/Scrum, defense, cybersecurity, and business services.