Write Now: ‘Yes’ Or ‘No’ Questions Won’t Do In An Interview

In this space I sometimes write about writing which can be called meta-writing.

When writing fiction, you usually delve into your mind to come up with the source information used for the text. The information comes from you and what you have experienced or been exposed to in your life. In other words, you write about what you know.

Have you ever written about what you don’t know?

Maybe you are assigned a research paper where you have to find facts about a person, place or thing. Or maybe you have been assigned to interview someone about a specific topic.

Interviewing can be difficult if you don’t understand the process.

And yes, I mean process.

Be prepared. If you are interviewing someone, the first thing you need to do is research information about him. This is an important step because it could make or break your interview session. The interviewee will know if you are not prepared because your questions may seem unoriginal.

If you do your research, and ask good questions, the interviewee will see that you have done research and maybe he will feel more comfortable talking. Sometimes, even though you have done the research, interviewees may not answer hard questions because they don’t want to. That is on them, not you.

And being a journalist, interviewing is part of the job. If you want to be a journalist, don’t be afraid to interview someone and don’t be afraid to ask tough questions.

When interviewing someone, do not ask simple “yes” or “no” questions because you will receive “yes” and “no” answers. You probably expect that the person you are interviewing will expand on his answer. Some people will and some people won’t. For example, if you ask someone “Do you like country music?” and he answers only “no” and that’s all he said, you have a potential problem. You can’t write anything but “no.”

You need to use the five W’s and sometimes H because you will not receive a “yes” or “no” answer. The five Ws are Who, What, Where, When, and Why, and the H is How.

For example, instead of asking “Do you like country music?” you can ask “Why do you like country music?” I am sure that question will elicit a response, and maybe a long one. The interviewee may be so ecstatic that he may give more information than you realized you would get.

If you line up your questions correctly, your interviewee may answer all your questions within the first question asked. In keeping with our example, if you ask the Why question first, your interviewee may give information concerning Where he was when he first heard country music; Who he was with When he first heard country music; and What country music means to him.

You probably could write a nice story from those answers, and if you are a good listener, you can ask other questions based on the answers you received.

Interviewing techniques vary among journalists, but the only way to be proficient at interviewing is to practice.


Sometimes writers need to practice word economy. It helps to know how many words writers are allowed to use. This happens with fiction and non-fiction. In fiction, an editor may ask a writer to reduce his word count to better tell his story. In non-fiction, an editor may say the same. The goal for both editors is to tighten up the story, so the writer doesn’t seem wordy or verbose. Why write “The ball was hit by Tom,” when “Tom hit the ball,” keeps the pace and moves the story along. New writers, I don’t think, have a problem with word economy as much as seasoned, veteran, writers do. The reason, I think, is because veteran writers have more from which to create. It’s a both a blessing and a curse. A writer has to know what words can be cut from his project.

It’s that simple.

It’s that difficult.


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