How to get good text-based interviews for your blog or website

These days people are far too busy to take time out and be physically “interviewed” to provide quotes, information, testimonials, endorsements, etc. And apart from the fact that to obtain a live face-to-face interview with someone (especially someone famous) takes more organizing than a nationwide military coup, you’ll often find that the face-to-face variety isn’t all that good anyway.

How to get good text-based interviews for your blog or website

Want a good interview for your blog or website? Email the questions to your interviewee…

The answer?

Email them the questions.

This is not as simple as it sounds. People are a) busy and b) lazy, so if you want to get some good results you need to make it very, very easy for them to respond.

First, the practical bits

Naturally you need to establish that whoever you are to interview is happy with the arrangement. In the main you’ll find that the prospect of their being able to answer questions in their own time, when it suits them, without an interviewer breathing down
their neck, works for them much better than any other alternative.

Next, prepare your email carefully. Write it out with a short introduction or recap on what you have agreed, then place your questions below. Embolden each question individually; if you embolden all questions in one sweep the response will come back in bold, too, which may make it hard for you to decipher.

And the questions? (Not too many…)

Essentially these should be focused on the old journalistic principles of “who, what, where, when and how,” with appropriate modification. But here’s a warning; don’t overdo the number of questions. People are put off by a long list.

Let’s say you’re looking to obtain a good testimonial for a client (alter appropriately if the project is to get a testimonial for your own business). Here’s a list of questions from another article of mine which should give you a good spread of quotes, but select only 5 or 6 or them if you don’t want to scare your interviewee off:

  • What is it that you think makes XXX different from their competitors?
  • Just how much better than the competition do you feel XXX really is?
  • Why do you feel that XXX is more efficient than other, similar (whatever)?
  • How would you rate your experience of working with/using XXX?
  • Compared with their competitors, how do you rate your experience of working with/using XXX?
  • On a 1 to 10 scale, how would you rate your experience of working with/using XXX, and why?
  • What difference has using XXX made to your business’s/department’s performance?
  • What is it about XXX’s performance/service that makes the different?
  • What was it that made you choose XXX in the first place?
  • What was it that made you choose XXX instead of their competitors?
  • What was it that made you change from your previous (whatever) to XXX?
  • What additional benefits have you found through using XXX?
  • What are the three main benefits of working with XXX?
  • In summary, then, what would you say is the key benefit of working with XXX?
  • In summary, then, what difference has working with/using XXX made to your bottom line?
  • How important is it to you that you should work with/use XXX in the future?
  • What sort of future do you think XXX can look forward to?
  • If I were someone considering using XXX, what advice would you give me?

And for some more general questions?

When you’re doing an email interview with someone to obtain information that’s not necessarily an endorsement or testimonial, you need to research the topic a little bit more thoroughly and plan whatever it is you’re going to write, so that your email interview questions run alongside your plan and so lead to providing you with the information you need.

For example, let’s look at an email interview about the need for businesses to employ a truly professional recruitment agency: here are the questions I would ask of the recruitment agency head honcho for a blog post or article aimed at his/her potential clients:

1.To what extent do you feel that the recruitment process for managers is a continuous cycle, rather than a linear process?

2.What are the benefits to a client company of hiring a recruitment agency as opposed to setting up and internal recruitment function?

3.In your experience, what are the most important criteria for a client to consider when selecting a recruitment agency, in order of importance, and why?

4.How should a client company in this sector go about the process of selecting an agency?

5.At selection stage, what should the client company expect the agency to do in terms of research and information-seeking?

6.Once the agency is selected, what are the most important elements to incorporate into the formal appointment? (E.g. contract, T&Cs, length of agreement, timing of reviews, termination terms, etc., but especially anything over and above what a client company would ordinarily expect)

Assessing your results and using them

Much as people might tell you that interviewing by email doesn’t result in such thorough responses as you might get from the F2F variety, I disagree … not because I’m a bolshie cow, but because in my experience it just doesn’t work out that way.

Invariably the results I get from these emailed interview questions are good because a) the responses are relatively short and sweet which for contemporary online purposes is what we need, and b) the fact that people have time to think about what they’re going to respond with enables them to do it better than they would “off the cuff.”

Good luck with your email interviewing – it’s the way ahead, I’m sure!

Now, let’s write up those interviews perfectly:

“Business Writing Made Easy…everything you need to know about writing for business in English

“Banana Skin Words and how not to slip on them”…over 1,500 spelling and grammar tips to perfect your written English

“English to English: the A to Z of British-American translations”…more than 2,000 business and social terms from the USA, the UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand

photo credit: Marco Bellucci via photopin cc

Comments

comments

Thoughts

  1. Great advice – keep the questions ‘open’ and hope for short answers!

    • Yes, good point Lynn. You need to keep emailed questions as simple as possible and never ask more than one question at a time. If you ask complex questions F2F or on Skype or whatever you can explain yourself if the interviewee doesn’t understand, but with email you only have one shot at it!

  2. These are excellent suggestions for anyone preparing to conduct an interview!

    • Thanks Mary – interviewing by email isn’t as thorough as doing it face-to-face, but it’s very much more convenient when people are busy, and provided you follow these guidelines the result is pretty much as good.

  3. Good Stuff! I have never done an interview like this but partly because I didn’t know how or what! Now that I do I’m gonna give one a try.

    • Great, Yolanda! It does work pretty well and often means that you successfully get an interview with someone who would be too busy / awkward / etc. to see you in person or be interviewed on the phone.

  4. I love this idea!

    I’m off to make a list of people to interview …

    Thanks, Suze!

    • Glad you like it Jane. It does save a lot of windshield time and allows people to articulate properly, and edit their responses so making them more usable than verbatim ones which often can be full of ums and ahs and ers!

  5. What a great idea!
    I was thinking of asking some of my students to write a blog post about why they are learning German, but I think I get a better response if I email them some questions.

    • You might well get a better response if you do it that way, Angelika. That’s mainly because your students will have plenty of time to think about what they want to say, rather than answering your questions in conversation. Let us know how it works for you!

  6. Nice post, Suze. I’ve had some success with email interviews but find that two things have been important considerations for them to work well:

    1) Provide some brief background context before the questions on your audience and their level of expertise to help the interviewee pitch the answers at the appropriate level.

    2) No more than 5 questions max (4 is ideal), as time is needed not just to write the answers, but also compose them in a thoughtful way too.

  7. Donna Spears says:

    I love the suggestion and the idea of having a good text based interview. I never try to do this one.
    By the way thanks a lot for sharing this!

Trackbacks

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  3. […] Given that you cut through the crap and get some useful background to the real objectives of a questionnaire, apply your own knowledge and inspiration so you draft your questionnaire in a way that will work for respondents. Below I’ve given you some examples of the way to ask good, probing questions above, but for more on that and how to follow the basic rules of journalistic interview questions, check out this article here. […]

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  5. […] we’ve seen elsewhere here on HTWB, the only way you can make them credible is by using the real words that real people […]

  6. […] with space beneath to make it easy for the interviewee to respond. For more on this – check out this article of mine here on […]

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