How to conduct an interview for book research

Indie writers researching a nonfiction book (and even those writing novels!) often must conduct interviews. This is a valuable way to gather background information and quotations that will be useful in shaping and penning the book.

If you’ve never conducted an interview before, it can be a stressful time. Meeting someone, especially of importance, often can cause you to be nervous and very self-conscious. Do not worry, however. Typically interviewees are honored to talk about topics they care deeply about and will welcome you. And the more interviews you do, the easier they come.

To ensure your interview goes as smoothly as possible, follow a few simple guidelines:
• Be on time – The interviewee is doing you a favor by taking time from his or her busy schedule. Respect that. If the interviewee also has set a time when the session must end, don’t go over it.
• Dress appropriately – Always dress for the setting so that the interviewee will take you seriously. A corporate environment means professional attire while a start-up of young twenty-something techies probably would scoff at anyone wearing a suit and tie.
 Remain courteous – Always take the moral high road. If the interviewee says something with which you disagree, don’t argue but ask for clarification. If the interviewee says something intolerably reprehensible, you always can politely end the session and leave.
• Receive permission to receive – If using a tape recorder or a recording app via Skype, always state you will record it. If the interviewee objects, then do not record. Side note: If recording, use a device with background noise cancellation, which makes transcription easier, ensuring accurate quotations and a better understanding of the interviewee’s statements.
• Practice good listening skills – Focus on what they’re saying, not on how you might respond it. Also, don’t interrupt or try to show off by telling how much you know. You’re interviewing the person to gather information, not to give it to them or to impress.
• Prepare a list of questions – Don’t um and uh your way through an interview. Instead, write a list of questions in advance. If you have an outline for your manuscript, many of those questions can be about the sections for which you have little text or need to better understand. During the interview you always can stray from you questions, dumping those that have just been answered or that you realize aren’t relevant; you also can add questions that pop into your head based on the interviewee’s answers.
• Ask for clarification – Never remain confused in an interview, especially if you don’t understand what the interviewee is explaining or if the answer contradicts your research. You will gain a new depth of understanding and later be less likely to make mistakes when writing if you walk out of an interview clear about what was said.
 Follow up with a thank you – Don’t just offer thanks at the interview’s end but email a thank you. Wait a day and in between that time review your notes to do this so that you might email any follow-up questions or ask for clarifications.


My name is Rob Bignell. I’m an affordable, professional editor who runs Inventing Reality Editing Service, which meets the manuscript needs of writers both new and published. I also offer a variety of self-publishing services. During the past decade, I’ve helped more than 300 novelists and nonfiction authors obtain their publishing dreams at reasonable prices. I’m also the author of the 7 Minutes a Day… writing guidebooks, four nonfiction hiking guidebook series, and the literary novel Windmill. Several of my short stories in the literary and science fiction genres also have been published.