Ways to Generate Great Interview Questions

8 Tips for Generating Great Interview Questions

Cropped shot of mature businesswoman interviewing candidate at boardroom table
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The interview questions you ask your interviewee will make or break your magazine article. There is no such thing as winging the interview questions you ask

Here are eight things to keep in mind as you generate and ask your interview questions.

8 Tips for Writing Interview Questions

  1. Prepare Ahead of Time: Never, ever go in cold. You have to do your research and be fully prepared in advance, so you know your subject inside out. This prep work is extremely important as it will be the ground you stand on.
  2. Set the Tone: Simply put, funny questions result in light-hearted, humorous interviews and inspiring questions result in inspiring interviews. What is the final product you have in mind? More importantly, what is the tone your editor is looking for? Communication is key, so you need to meet with, or at least inquire by email, what your editor is expecting from you. Keep this in mind as you prepare every question because tone is subliminal and often hard to nail down.
  3. Let Your Curiosity Lead You: Pretend that you are the reader and ask yourself what it is that you want to know about this person, their career, their childhood, their obstacles, their favorite project, their biggest accomplishment. Let your curiosity questions lead you from this entry point.
  4. Yes, You May Google: We all go to the same place to launch our research. What is important is where you end up. As long as you don't plagiarize and research with a discerning eye (i.e., you look for primary sources for verification), it is fine to Google and YouTube your subject.
  5. Avoid Cliches: Avoid the obvious that doesn't provide something new for the reader. If the famous actor you're interviewing always wanted to be a famous actor, that is not an intriguing piece of information. Instead, ask if they experienced any internal conflicts when making the decision to become an actor—if, say, the performer came from a family of doctors. If you must ask if they always wanted to be an actor, just rephrase the question in a manner that will elicit more material out of them.
  6. Avoid Yes-No Answers: The easy-out is only to ask questions that elicit a yes or no answer. Instead, ask open-ended questions that will get your subject talking, reminiscing, and/or expounding on the topic. If you must ask a yes or no question, be prepared with follow-up questions to both responses. 
  7. Go to the Source: If you're interviewing an author, writer, producer, blogger, artist, or another expert who has produced a commercial product (such as a film or book), by all means, go see the film or read the book. You need to know what you're dealing with.
  8. Ask the Editor: Another option is to ask your editor, but that doesn't mean they should come up with the questions. It's not their job to do your work for you. That said, it's a good idea to get a feel for what kind of story they're looking for and to ask if there any questions they would like added to your list of questions.

Of course, be as relaxed as possible when you conduct your interview to ensure your interviewee is relaxed, and therefore, open to your inquiries. Carefully consider your subject's words and stories, and be alert should they go off on a tangent. If so, follow along if it's interesting, or get them back on track if it isn't. Also, any kind of emotional connection you can forge with the other person will make it easier for them to speak candidly, and ultimately, contribute to a solid article.