Tips for writing a feature or interview article

Although I do write a lot of personal writing (and if you follow my posts, it’s the personal writing that gives me the most angst) I also write for a living. It’s funny, because you’ll never hear me complain about my assigned work and that’s because I’m given assignments with a deadline and told to go do it.

There is no angst, there is only do.

This morning I was looking at my article to-do list, right now I have 6 articles for 2 different publications that are due in the next week. Piece of cake, in fact I wrote to the editors and let them know the exact dates I’ll be submitting.

I know the thought of writing an article scares many (where do I even start?) but I happen to love writing them. For the most part, I write the fun stuff, interviews and features with little to no news reporting. Here are some of my tips when gathering information for articles.

First be on the constant lookout for article ideas. Often I’ve gone to one event and gotten many other ideas for future articles. Take names, write down notes, and have your business card handy so that people can contact you later.

  • Whether I’m pitched an article or am assigned one, the article title with the due date goes on a post-it and it then goes on my article board. That way, every day when I sit down at my desk I can tell what is still outstanding and what needs to be done. Just as there is when crossing off an item on your to-do list, it is nothing short of exquisite joy when you pull down a completed post-it.
  • Do the homework. Read any press releases that were sent out about the event or person. Do a Google search to find out any information. Write down names with titles. Be prepared.
  • Make sure you have clear directions on how to get to the event. From personal experience either make sure you have a car charger that works or that your phone is fully charged – I recently had to stop in at a police station to get directions to a local event because my phone had died. You’d better believe my phone is fully charged each time I leave for a story now.
  • I actually love interviewing others and think of an interview as being allowed to have a seat at the table. It gives me a chance to pretty much ask anything I want. I’m a pretty curious person and so I take clear advantage of this. Just because I ask a question though, it doesn’t mean it needs to be included in the article but it may give me a better sense of what the person being interviewed is like.
  • Have a list of questions ready to ask but be flexible. It’s not a race to get through your questions as much as it is a treasure hunt to unearth the story. Ask questions about replies, ask what made someone do what they did, comment on clothing or accessories. Seriously an off-the-cuff remark about a young girl’s bracelet led me to an African bead fundraising story.
  • It sounds obvious but, remember that the interview is not about you. Have you ever seen interviews on TV where a question is asked and then the interviewer goes on to answer it leaving no time for the interviewee to talk? Don’t you just want to scream at the interviewer and tell him to just be quiet for a minute? Some of my best interviews have happened not because of asking but instead  because of listening.
  • Think about the articles you like to read, are they simply facts or are they filled with unusual information and interesting tidbits. Chances are if you like a style of article, you’ll be good at writing that style. Go after the bits of information that you’d like to read about and it will make the article that much easier to write.
  • I bring a pen and a highlighter with me when I interview someone. During the talk (and this takes practice but if you do it enough it will become easy) the person being interviewed will say something that you just know is your bottom line quote. Usually it’s a summary or a lessons learned statement. Once you hear it, either underline it or highlight it and when you start to compose your article arrange everything so that the facts, quotes, and information logically lead to that final quote.

How about you article writers out there? Any tips you’d like to share?

***

Wendy Thomas is an award winning journalist, columnist, and blogger who believes that taking challenges in life will always lead to goodness. She is the mother of 6 funny and creative kids and it is her goal to teach them through stories and lessons.

Wendy’s current project involves writing about her family’s experiences with chickens (yes, chickens). (www.simplethrift.wordpress.com)

Got one in queue for this afternoon in fact.

32 thoughts on “Tips for writing a feature or interview article

  1. This is a very timely post for me. I am in a manuscript club that has two outstanding women who are both nearing 90. They have written books and stories and led the most amazing lives; I would love to interview them for our next book. This is helpful for sure. Looking forward to more *tips*! 🙂

  2. Thank you so much for this wonderful post. Recently, I conducted an interview with another blogger, and this advice was very helpful.I will definitely recommend this article to anyone hoping to interview someone. Excellent work!

  3. I have said this in the past, but I must say it again. I appreciate that the writers on this blog share real information and valuable tips that I can use immediately to move forward with my own writing. So many blogs “tease” you into clicking, only to find out that you have to buy the book to get the real info! So, thank you. My takeaway from your post? I have been challenged in the organization department lately, and your tips about the post-its and the article board are going to solve my problem. Yeah! Much appreciated!

  4. Pragmatic advice. In addition, I find it’s always helpful to put a unique spin on things. If the person you’re interviewing has done many other interviews, it’s great to find something they haven’t been asked to talk about. If it’s a specific topic, I like to do preliminary research to make sure I’m not writing about an idea/person that’s already been tackled or showcased in the recent past. Editors like trendy articles/hot topics, but they don’t want redundant info that’s going to make them look like copycats. There’s a fine line between giving editors what they want and coming across as non-innovative so it’s always worth it to make sure you’ve got a definite twist in approach to ensure the article is fresh and appealing.

  5. As a fellow magazine writer turned novelist, I applaud this concise and clear advice! Writing features and doing interviews is VERY different from fiction writing, but can be just as fulfilling. Kudos!

  6. Wonderful post, thanks so much. I too love to interview people and have a similar approach. I always like to concentrate on the question “what makes this person tick?” It is so fulfilling to highlight the positive and good within people. I consider every interview a joy and privilege!

    • When I conduct an interview I use what ever method I can. If it’s by phone I usually type notes in to my computer. If it’s an important story (politician) where exact wording is critical – I tend to use a recorder.

      If it’s a standard in person interview, I tend to use a pad. I think it’s the “friendliest” and least intimidating type of note taking there is. People may bug out when they see a recorder but then they are almost reassured when I pull out my notebook and start writing down. It shows them that I’m listening and that I value what they say.

      Wendy

    • Deb, I don’t record interviews unless it’s someone very important (politicians and people for case studies come to mind) I tend to write fast (I have my own unique shorthand) and I try to recreate the information as soon as I can. If I have any doubts about direct quotes, I send them to the interviewee (not the entire article just the quote) to make sure.

      Wendy

  7. Pingback: QUOTES « just a quote

  8. Great advice and not just for journalists. I often apply these rules as an oral historian. I especially follow the idea of formulating questions before the interview but still being flexible for what may come up. Your term of “treasure hunt” for an interview is the perfect description of what any interviewer does. Thank you for the post!

  9. I am glad to have found this resource to help me as a writer. I am going into journalism. Writing has helped me as an autistic person. Becoming a better writer is by adhering to the following quote “Writing is an act of faith, not a trick of grammar”- E.B. White

    Thank you for the help.

  10. You have covered many points and I especially concur with you regarding to the fact that an interview is not about the interviewer. Some people think it is the opportunity to show their audience how much they know and deny the audience the full potential of getting to learn more from the person being interviewed.
    Thanks for your points.

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  13. An impressive share! I have just forwarded this onto a colleague who was
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