Tips & Tricks

Asking the Right Questions

By Abby Schreiber

Who doesn't love a good documentary? Gripping stories, real characters - they're a classic. But there are a few things that set a "good" documentary apart from a…not so good one. (I know, I know. Subjective.)

Here are some tips for doing interviews of your own!

Prepare your questions ahead of time. What are you trying to get out of the interviewee? Map out your questions so you have a train of thought to follow. Of course, if that train takes extra stops (AKA their answers lead to better follow-up questions) that's fine, too.

Make sure they repeat your question in their response. Remember, in an interview, no one is hearing you ask the question! Their answer needs to work seamlessly on its own. They don't have to repeat it exactly - just enough that the viewer will understand their response. Ex: "How long have you lived in Pittsburgh?" Their answer should be, "I've lived in Pittsburgh for 4 years," not, "4 years."

And, with that in mind…

Try to avoid yes or no questions. They rarely further a story, and if you're planning on actually editing this later on, more substantiative answers will benefit you. Plus, what did we learn above: their answer should stand alone.

Make sure they're comfortable. For answers to flow, you need to make sure your interviewee feels secure. Some people clam up in front of a camera or recorder - it's normal! Personally, I like to start off my interviews by reminding my interviewee that it's just the two of us - ignore the camera, ignore anyone else. We'll just have a conversation. I like to ask a few warmup questions, like where they're from, what their favorite food is, etc, to get rolling.

As the holidays near, think about any interviewing you may want to do - whether it be finding out what everyone's favorite dish at Thanksgiving is or finally asking Grandma those key questions you've never had answered, these tips can help you along the way.

Keep in Touch

Get inspiration, tips and special offers straight to your inbox with our newsletter.

Have a Story to Share?

We want to hear from you! Submit your ideas to our editors.

Email Us