Doing good interviews

This page has tips on doing good interviews, and being prepared for interviews.

To get started, check these top interviewing tips which have been put together by pupils from Fulwood Academy in Preston…



Finding sources

Interviewing is about telling a story – a ‘source’ is something that helps to tell that story.  Here is a list of sources you might want to use when doing background research for an interview:

INTERVIEWEE: Get them to give you the background on the story – ‘what kind of work does their company do?’ ‘what’s happening at the volunteer centre?’
INTERNET: Huge source of information, although sometimes unreliable – don’t believe everything you read on the Net!
PRESS RELEASE / BIOGRAPHY: Has the station been sent, or can you ask for, this information?
NEWSPAPER AND MAGAZINE ARTICLES: As with the internet – always check your facts.
AN EXPERT: Someone else who is knowledgeable in the field


Interview types

Interviewing for broadcast is an exciting and highly responsible job.  The interviewer holds a lot of influence over the listener in the way the interview is conducted and this can change the message that comes across.

You should choose your interview style depending on what the listener will expect from that type of interview. Your job is to ask the questions they would ask – and maybe some they wouldn’t have thought of!




INFORMATIONAL: The aim is to find out more about the topic.  You need to understand at least the basic facts that the interview will disclose, so you can help structure the flow of information. This will require some discussion and research in advance.
INTERPRETIVE: You supply the facts and ask for comments from the interviewee.  It is VITAL that you are well briefed so that you can pick up on their answers.  This is NOT the chance for the interviewer to put their personal point of view forward.
EMOTIONAL: This is a public expression of feelings … which could be of joy, sadness, hope or despair, elation or frustration.  You must not make of meal of this element but it is a vital ingredient of good broadcasting.
ENTERTAINMENT: There are times when the interview is a vehicle to stage a ‘show’.  You may instigate this or the interviewee may be just a pure ‘character’ who talks in an inconsequential but highly amusing way.
CONFRONTATIONAL: This type of interview is challenging the interviewee on behalf of the listeners. The usual technique is to repeat the same allegation/question over and over again in an aggressive manner.
PERSONAL/ BIOGRAPHICAL: A more conversational interview where the goal is to let the listeners into the mind of the interviewee. Often the interviewee is talking about their life story. They may be a local hero or a famous person. This is a great interview for community radio to cover unsung local heroes.

 NB Elements of all of these interview styles can happen in any single interview


Researching for interviews

An interview is only as good as the RESEARCH that has been done on the issue or the interviewee. The amount of research you need to do will depend on:

  • the amount of time you have to prepare.
  • the duration of the interview.

Obviously you will have less time to research a ‘breaking news story’ – more time to research an interview booked well in advance. The more planned you are, the more time you will have to prepare and to do a good job researching what you need to produce great radio.


First of all ask yourself, what do I want from this interview?

  • Information
  • Opinion
  • A portrait of the person
  • A flavour of the organisation
  • Emotion
  • Truth
  • Authority
  • Fun
  • ‘Their’ place in the community

Knowing what you want out of the interview means you will know what kind of interview you want to do and that will then help you to decide what kinds of questions you want to ask

Always ask yourself, ‘What does the listener want to know? (and in most cases presume no knowledge). You are speaking to the interviewee because they have something to say that you think the listener will want to hear.



Preparing questions

Interviews will go much better if you have some questions prepared in advance. You might throw in other ones as you get into the flow, but prepared questions will give you something to fall back on.

To get the interviewee talking you need to ask ‘open’ questions.

These are questions that are worded so that the interviewee cannot answer in one word – ‘yes’ or ‘no’ – and must therefore give your more information.



Open questions

Open questions usually start with:

WHO …?                   WHY …?

 WHAT …?               WHERE …?

WHEN …?                  HOW …?

Open questions are useful to help gather information.

Examples:    What does your role involve? Why do you think that? How do you feel the problem could be fixed?

What does that mean? When will this be dealt with?


Encourages the interviewee to talk rather than giving simple one-word answers.  With a talkative interviewee it may be difficult to keep them on track.
Invites expression of ideas Needs to be controlled.
Useful for fact finding Can go off topic too easily.
More conversational responses Ask for too much info with double-barrelled questions.



Another way of asking ‘open-ended’ questions is by making them invitations to speak by starting them with:

            Tell me …                              Explain …                              Describe…

Examples:    Tell me why you became involved in volunteering …

Explain how that works for the people who …

Describe how you felt when …


This is a very conversational way to ask the interviewee to share information. It works well in personal/biographical interviews and more chatty conversations rather than formal interviews.

A good interviewer uses open-ended questions to control an interview and gather the information they need to get across in a way that is understandable to the listener.


Closed questions

– “Do you think that…”
– “Is it true that…”
– “Are you happy about…”

Closed questions are useful if you want to get a quick answer, or if you are pressing a guest for the truth – but use with care!


Double-barrelled questions. More than one question at a time can confuse the interviewee and it may not be clear to the interviewee or the listeners which question the interviewee is answering.

Long-winded questions. Your question should not last longer than the answer. Long questions are usually a sign people are unprepared and are speaking off the cuff.



Further tips for good interviewing

Learn from the professionals! There are some very useful tips by BBC staff about techniques and principles the follow when preparing and doing interviews – on the BBC Academy.