Excuse Me?: Asking the Right Questions

July 12, 2010

Whether it be an actor profile or feature story, asking questions is the most important step in covering a story. You want to add as much color to your story as you can. Although it is impossible to ask a stupid question, there is smart approach you should take in order to get the most information out of your subject.

  1. Seek the open ended question. It may be harder than you think. Even if you attempt to lead your subject into a response with questions such as “Did you like….?” and “Have you been…”, most likely you will walk away with the dead enders: ‘yes’, ‘no’, & ‘sort of’, phrases that don’t create depth or color. Instead, go for the how’s and why’s or ask to be more specific. “What was your favorite experience as the prima ballerina and why?”. “How did practice effect your school life?”  
  2. Do your research. During class or a meeting, are you likely to put in an intelligent two cents if you know your material before hand? The same goes for interviewing. When you dig into information before hand, you are more likely to ask someone about something that you haven’t already found out by reading a book or going to a website.
  3. Gain a contact. Some interviewees can be shy or stubborn and won’t give the information up no matter how hard you try. Thus, instead of giving up, ask them for information about a possible contact, someone close to them that could be valuable to you. “Oh, your sister was in the play too? Who was she? Could I possibly talk to her too?”

For practice, visit Poynter‘s course on interviewing which includes an online simulation that allows you to ask questions and find out which ones help progress the conversation.

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