Jul 12 2011
Writing a blog post on a regular basis is difficult. That’s why I recommend to my clients that they create an editorial calendar and start slow. Forget about doing a daily a blog post—you’ll burn out quickly and you’ll hate blogging. Instead, start off with a weekly blog post and gradually build up to two posts per week, then three, and then maybe a daily blog post. Whatever you ultimately decide, make sure you write on a regular basis and on the same day of the week so your readers know when to expect new material.
That being said, there are times when you may be desperately seeking material for that upcoming blog post. In this case, I always recommend that you reach out to your professional network and interview someone—an expert in their field. It can be as simple as a Q&A format, or it can be something that you just turn into a brief article. below are tips I learned from journalism days, but they still apply to any blogger.
Before you begin, there are three ways to gather information for your story:
Of these, interviewing is clearly the most important. It can be done:
- In person
- Over the phone
- And now even by e-mail.
It can be extensive or just a few questions. In whatever form, it is the key to the stories you write. Your ability to talk to your experts is the difference between being a mediocre writer and a great one.
5 Steps to Take in Preparing for an Interview
- Be prepared: research your topic first. Preparation allows you to ask good questions and signals your subject that you are not to be dismissed lightly. Read all that is available, such as Web sites and other articles. Talk to those who know the subject. A common ingredient of the superb interview is a knowledge of the subject so thorough that it creates a kind of intimacy between the journalist and the interviewee.
- Find your sources. If you can’t find anyone in your professional network, try an online source like ProfNet or HARO.
- Know the tentative theme for your piece and determine how this interview will fit that theme. In other words, know what information you’ll need from the source.
- When you have answered those questions, prepare a list of questions. The best way to have a spontaneous conversation is to have questions ready. That way you can relax, knowing that you will not miss an important topic.
- Listen. Look the subject in the eye and listen carefully to his/her answers. Be sure to smile. A smile helps both you and your subject relax. Think of your meeting with your source as a structured but friendly conversation, not an interview.
Formulating Great Interview Questions
- Be sure to frame your question without a bias towards one response or another. Phrase your questions in a neutral way.
- Mix open-ended questions, such as, “Tell me about your love for antique cars,” with closed-ended ones, such as, “How old are you?”
- The closed-ended ones elicit basic information; the open-ended allow the interviewee to reveal information or feelings that you did not anticipate.
- Long, complex, multi-part questions generally do not elicit very good information.
- The single best follow-up question one can ask: “What do you mean by that?”
- The second-best follow-up question: “Well, give me some examples.”
During the interview, try to establish a rapport with the person early on. You may want to wait a bit before pulling your notebook out. This meeting stage may determine how the rest of the interview will go. Do you share a common interest or friend? If so, mention that. When the source is speaking, nod or make some verbal remark to show you are listening and understand. Sit on the edge of your chair and lean forward. This is a posture that projects an eager, positive attitude.
Other Useful Techniques
- Always use a tape recorder. Explain to the subject, if need be, that no one will hear it but you.
- Take notes, too. Tape recorders sometimes malfunction.
- Do your homework. A subject will warm to you when realizing you’ve taken the trouble to be informed.
- Save the tough questions for the latter part of the interview.
- Try not to ask questions that can be answered with a “yes” or “no.”
- Don’t be nervous. The athlete can’t hurt you. But you can hurt the athlete. He or she is the one who should be nervous, and probably is.
- If you are totally out of your element, ask for help. Admit that you normally cover softball and have never written a piece on rowing. Almost always, the subject will be only too happy to help.
- Try to have a “conversation” when possible, instead of just asking questions.
- Unless you have an agenda, have three to four questions prepared to get things rolling. Then follow where the subject wants to take you.
Daniel Casciato is a full-time freelance copywriter and journalist. In addition to ghostwriting, he writes health, legal, real estate, and technology-related articles for trade magazines and online publications. For more information, visit www.danielcasciato.com.
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