The Donts

1. Don't stick rigidly to your prepared list of questions, but have it ready. Try, instead, to play off the conversation in progress. Appear to be inventing the questions on the spot (don't use the formal language found on your list). Try to include in your wording something just said in the inter view. Even when that question was far down on your list, work it in now when it has arisen naturally in conversation.

2. Don't lead the jury. Be careful how you word your questions so as not to lead the interviewee (even unconsciously) in a direction you wish to pursue. An apparent tangent may lead to an even more interesting destination, given a chance.

3. Don't fill in conversational gaps. In everyday conversations, we all have a fear of "dead air." We jump into a silence and fill it with anything. The interview is not a normal conversation (try as you might to achieve that feeling), so you should act accordingly. Deliberately leave long pauses unfilled. The possible benefit to your purposes is that, fearing that the interview will look like it's not going well, the interviewee will jump into the gap and start shoveling desperately to fill it—and may fill it with material he or she didn't intend to bring up at all. You may hear things tumbling out that you would never in the world have asked, either through sensitivity or through ignorance. After the person says something genuinely interesting, say "wow" or something else to show that you "got" it and liked it, but don't follow it up with other words or a further question. Just leave that conversational gap for the interviewee to fill.

4. Don't be afraid of "dumb" questions. It has been said that "The only dumb question is the question not asked." We all hesitate to ask something that may expose our innocence or our ignorance. Ignore that self-protecting temptation; ask the question. You're not in the interview to demonstrate how much you know about something; you're there to find interesting and informative materials for your readers. Asking questions will uncover what you're looking for— and sometimes the seemingly dumb question will unearth things you never dreamed of.

5. Don't hesitate to revisit earlier questions and answers. Don't be afraid to return to an earlier answer that you didn't fully understand, one that seemed fertile, but then the interview went off on some new tack. With the benefit of hindsight and further information as the interview has proceeded, your question may seem even more significant now than it did originally. Ask the question in a new way, so the interviewee won't feel abused by being asked the identical question again. Research inconsistencies. If the inconsistency is great, you may want to probe more right now, or revisit again in a few minutes to see what answer then comes out. And revisit any question that obviously struck a sour note at the time it was asked. You didn't follow it up then because you didn't want to offend, or you wanted time to consider the implications before probing a bit more. The trick is to revisit with different wording each time you recycle—and you may wish to recycle a particular question several times.

Revisiting or recycling serves several useful purposes. You may get better answers the second time around, after a better rapport has developed; you may get altogether different answers; and you may get something totally new, something not even mentioned in the previous answer(s).

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