Essential Tools for Interviews (part 4 of 4)

Some pointers learned through years of interviewing:

Put the person at ease

● If the person expresses discomfort with being recorded, say, “It’s only for my ears so I can be sure I get accurate quotes.” Act like recording is not a big deal, and your subject will forget about it. You might even cough or clear your throat, just to show that you’re not recording for broadcast or for anyone else to hear.

● Put the recorder where it can clearly pick up the subject’s voice and yours—ideally with two lapel mics running out of an inexpensive Y-clip. Also where you can see the recorder so you can check it periodically to make sure it’s working, but do so casually. Drawing attention to the recorder can make your subject nervous. A little-known trick: run a single earplug line out of the headphone jack and you can listen as you interview. If you can hear it through that line, you know you’re recording.

Prevent glitches

● Use an external microphone, preferably a lapel mike — ideally one for each of you. This ensures capturing the subject’s voice while keeping the recorder close enough for you to check.

● Bring extra batteries. I usually set them near the recorder so if I have to change batteries, I can do it quickly, without breaking the person’s train of thought. Naturally, having the ability to plug your machine into an electrical outlet is the safest.

● If you’re using a tape recorder, have your extra cassettes ready to pop in, and practice doing it quickly. Change tapes with a minimum of fuss to avoid breaking the interview’s flow.

● Because digital recorders are small, bring an extra one or a recording MP3 player. If necessary, you can make a quick switch. I’ve had a recorder fail only a few times, but it can be difficult to reconstruct an interview from notes and memory.

Beyond the recording

● Take a few notes — even if you have a recorder — which shows you’re really engaged. Especially note the person’s key points, but don’t lose eye contact for long periods.

● Jot some of your physical observations, such as the subject’s office or home, and their mannerisms. On your way home you can even dictate some of these details onto the end of the recording.

Don’t stop

● After you finish your interview, keep the recorder going. Sometimes after the pressure of the official interview is off, your subject will give you some of the best details and quotes.

Act fast

● Transcribe your notes soon after the interview. If there is a technical problem, you’ll have a fresher memory of what was said.

Jeanette Gardner Littleton, a CWG mentor and freelance book editor, is currently seeking submissions for a compilation she’s contracted to edit for James Stuart Bell and Bethany House: Angels, Miracles, and Heavenly Encounters. For guidelines, email her at


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