Magazine Writing: Interviewing

Tuesday’s Writing Tips: 

Portable MFA in Creative Writing: Magazine Writing


Before the interview it’s advised to do research on the subject or person you are writing about, but not too much because you want to keep a sense of curiosity going into the interview.

If you do extensive research, you’re more likely to know what areas to cover and what kinds of questions to ask. However, there may be something else entirely that you didn’t catch while doing your research.

There are three ways to set up the interview: by phone, in person, or via email. If you can, do it in person. I find it’s a richer experience and I can read facial expressions and body language.

By phone:

Tape interviews if you can, and remember to ask permission. If you are recording the conversation it’s important to take notes too. It helps keep you focused on the interview and ensures you have the information you need if your recorder doesn’t work.

Make preliminary contact, don’t call without warning. Tell them exactly what the story is, what kind of information you’re looking for and how much time you’ll need. Don’t overwhelm someone and say it’ll take a couple of hours—people don’t have that kind of time.

Email interviews:

These are rare, but can be useful. They are clunky and follow-up questions can be difficult, unless you intend to carry out a never-ending back-and-forth stream of emails.

Taping interviews and taking notes:

Whether or not you use a recorder, always take notes. Recorders can malfunction. They can also pick up extraneous sounds in the surrounding area, i.e. fans humming or music playing.

Your notes can verify quotes in case a tape recording is garbled.

Type up notes as soon as you get home. You’ll be writing quickly through the interview and it will be fresh immediately following. Sometimes my notes are very hard to read. So, typing them immediately following the interview is a must.

The most important thing for a journalist is listening. At some point, you may do an article that is difficult for the interviewee. If you are listening and focused you need to be able to read body language and back off from asking some of the difficult questions.


  1. Be prepared: Know something about the subject and/or person.
  2. Be yourself: Try not to be too aggressive and don’t act like someone your not during the interview. People can tell if you are faking it and it will make them uncomfortable.
  3. Set up a strategy: Know your first question or topic you want to talk about.
  4. Don’t think of the interview as an interview: Think of it as a conversation. Pay attention, interject occasionally with something about yourself.
  5. Don’t script the interview: Don’t prepare a list of questions in order to ask. The best interviews are organic.
  6. Shape the interview: If you get off topic, inject another question that puts the conversation back where you want it. Don’t let people ramble.
  7. Save the tough questions for the end: If you have to ask an alienating question, do it last or it could ruin the entire interview.
  8. Ask if you can reconnect: You will have questions about the interview. Ask for their phone number in case you need to reconnect.

Next week: What to Look for in an Interview

Yesterday I posted a link to the website AhaPoetry. They have an extensive list of ways to experiment with haiku. Today I selected #15…limited or non-use of pronouns.

Haiku of the day:



Outstretched Hand by Susie Dezarn

breath stops
eyes glimmer
outstretched hand

Have you ever written poetry or haiku without pronouns?

Have a great Tuesday!


12 thoughts on “Magazine Writing: Interviewing

  1. Great advice!! On my first interview, I wasn’t that prepared and only thought about recording it the second they started speaking. Of course I asked permission, but it def was rough. Needless to say, I wish I had read this then. I have come a long way. 🙂

    • Hi Lisa,
      I have had my fair share of blunders. I did 2 interview via email and it was awful. I was emailing back and forth for a week just trying to get all the information I needed. Now, I try to do as many interviews in person as I can. I don’t record many interviews, but have def. thought about it.

      The book I use for reference is awesome. What I gave you in my post is a fraction of what is available in the MFA in Creative Writing. I try to pull out the meaty stuff, but there is a lot more. This book covers magazine writing, fiction, memoir and poetry. It is awesome!

      Thanks for your readership as always!! 🙂


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