BioPicBluesJan here, enjoying a beautiful day in the foothills of the Sierras. I’m getting ready to wander out to a coffee shop to meet a writing friend, but before I do I’d like to add another post to my sumer interviewing series.

Today’s focus will be the development of strong interview questions. Two goals: First, in your interviews, you want to get to the good stuff that will bring your writing to life. Second, the interview won’t be boring for you or your interviewee.

So where to start . . .

Begin with great research.

This sounds like a straight-forward step, but many skip it. Besides jotting down facts for your writing project, you’ll also generate questions for the potential interview. You will present yourself as a professional if you know the background facts ahead of time, including special terms or jargon. You’ll also be able to prompt new questions and stay engaged during the interview instead of floundering in confusion.

After you’ve done your research, write out your possible questions. Then, factoring in the length of the interview, choose and prioritize your top questions. In prioritizing, work from simple facts to complex, from early point on timeline to later, or from thought-evoking questions to more emotional-evoking questions.

When you consider the amount of time the interview will require, you’ll need know your interviewee’s availability and schedule. Twenty minutes to half an hour will be the max that many professionals can slice out of their day and sometimes only five to ten minutes. This will of course impact your question choices, but even in ten minutes, you can get beyond the facts if you plan and have strong questions.

At the other end of the time spectrum, you might have an opportunity to spend a morning or a day, or even several months of regular times of interviewing. The more time you have, the more flexible you’ll be able to be, but you still need strong, purposeful questions to make the most of those interviews.

What makes strong, purposeful questions?

I’ll begin with purposeful:

These arise out of your project’s purpose, a specific chapter’s purpose, or a specific detail needed. Simply, what do you need to know? What are the overarching details? What are the focused-in details that give life to your project—like texture, colors, smells, tastes? Purposeful questions target and dig deep to unearth not just the needed facts, but the hidden gems that will ultimately stir emotions and thinking for your reader.

And strong questions:

Strong questions state their purpose succinctly and clearly. They are questions that demonstrate your engagement with the subject. They are interesting to your interviewee. They prompt him or her to think beyond the rote facts to remember some hidden important piece of information. They bring to the surface emotions. You’ll see it on their face or hear it in their voice that what is being said really matters.

Keep in mind that some of the best questions may not come from your prepared list but from looking for what is revealed or hinted at in the interviewee’s answers. Practice prayerfully moving with rhythm of the interview.

Interviewing, from research to generating the questions to the dance of the conversation are all creative opportunities. Enjoy the process!

Others in the summer interview series:

Deeper into the Interview – When God might have more in mind for both of you than just getting the story down.

Who You Are as Interviewer – It matters who you are in the presence of another one of God’s created human  beings

Interviewing When the Story Gets Difficult – How to respond when difficult emotions stir in the interviewee


Jan writes nonfiction from her home in the foothills of the California Sierras. She is currently working on more material for the teen/ya audience and for those who deeply care about them. She also enjoys life coaching and mentoring writers. Visit her site at

2 thoughts on “Interviewing With Powerful Questions

Marja Meijers

August 9, 2010 - 12 : 09 : 00

Thanks Jan for this great post!

Jan Kern

August 9, 2010 - 22 : 37 : 19

You’re welcom, Maria. Thanks for stopping by!

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