Asking the Right Questions: How To Craft Killer Q&A’s

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Q&As are the bread and butter of so many working journalists and investigative article writers, especially in entertainment-related publishing. They can seem deceptively simple: ask and you shall receive, right? And oftentimes the general consensus is that they’re somehow easier or require less work than incorporating quotes in a feature-style piece. The tools that help set a Q&A apart from the rest can be elusive but, when employed properly, elevate the standard, time-tested format into a must-read, eye-opening piece.

1.Do your research

You’re telling yourself, “Well, of course!” But preparing for a Q&A interview means really devoting time to learning about the person so that you can engage them in a way that’s not the ol’ I-have-this-to-promote-and-you-have-a-deadline-to-meet transaction. Especially if you’re interviewing someone who is used to the press process, you can set yourself apart from the pack by finding unique bits from their personal history to ask about or mention a smaller, lesser known project that you’re familiar with.

2.Anticipate what everyone else is asking…

…And then don’t ask that. Assume that people read your Q&As specifically because you bring something unique to the table that doesn’t involve spinning a big wheel with questions like “Tell me about what it was like to work on [blank]” and “What are your influences?” on it. There are ways to talk to people about their of-the-moment projects without sounding canned or like an interview robot.

3.Avoid talking about yourself and/or hogging the interview

One of the hardest parts about a successful interview is the need for it to balance somewhere between informal, friendly chat and question-answering session. People can become guarded when being interviewed, naturally, and it’s important to find a way to get them to open up, but remember that there’s a difference between cracking a quick joke (hopefully based off something they said) and telling a five minute story about how you love their band so much because it reminded you of when you were in college and you worked at this great record store that you met your first boyfriend at and… Zzzzzz. One way to think about it is that when looking at the transcribed text of your interview, your blocks of interviewer text should rarely outweigh theirs.

4.Avoid speakerphone and/or interviewing in a loud or distracting location

This is nit-picky and sometimes really can’t be avoided but just the same way that you hate being put on speakerphone by someone when you’re trying to tell them something important, interviewees don’t love the sound of a total stranger’s hollow, faraway voice sounding even more detached. Remember, they’re being expected to share anecdotes and personal information with someone they’ve, oftentimes, never met so try to find ways to limit the distraction and inherent distance between you.

5.Be open to the interview going in myriad, unanticipated directions

The best Q&As to read are the ones that don’t travel in the direction you most expect them. When an interviewer is able to get someone to open up and tell a never-before-shared story from on-set or something even completely off-topic but delightful — like their secret passion for magic or brewing beer in their basement — readers are almost always able to feel that spontaneity in the conversation. You want someone to feel like they’re sitting around having a relaxed afternoon drink with you and this other, very interesting person while you talk. You don’t want them to feel like they’re watching you sweat while moving tediously down a list of thought-out questions, whether they’re reaping entertaining answers or not.

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