Essential Tools for Interviews (part 1 of 4)

You’re preparing to interview someone for an article. Besides your questions, what else do you need?

My husband, Mark, who’s also a writer, has a memory that enables him to retain much of what he hears. So he just brings a laptop or paper for taking general notes.

I’m not that fortunate. So in 30 years and hundreds of interviews, I’ve always used a recorder — for these reasons:


When you use a recorder, you can better focus on your subject’s words, expressions, and mannerisms.

In a good interview, you need to be alert. Sometimes a subject’s tone or expression can signal that you need to change gears, such as pursuing a side topic they feel strongly about.

If you’re focusing too much on taking notes, you might miss this.


What did she say about anorexia?” If you have a recording, you can go back to confirm you’re catching the subject’s intention or quoting him accurately.


“My brother never said he was doing drugs,” the sister of an interview subject told my editor after my article was printed. When my editor asked me, I had the tape for backup.

No one likes to think their writing may be doubted, and only twice in my years of interviewing has someone accused me of inaccuracy. Both times I could pull out the tapes.


When I interview someone, I usually have a certain publication in mind, and I ask questions from that angle.

But later, I may remember a bit of information that could lead to another focus for another publication. Then I can listen again and use that as the basis for a second article.

Jeanette Gardner Littleton, a CWG mentor, writes and edits from her home in Kansas City, where she eagerly awaits spring.

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Photo credit: © michaeljayberlin –

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