Don’t think the writer/interviewer has less work in a Q&A style interview than in an interview that is written in the traditional, feature-style format. (See my previous post for a definition of these two styles and some examples.) Research, structure, and editing are just as critical as in the traditional style, even though a Q&A style interview seems faster and easier to write, and more fun to read because it inherently has more spontaneity and immediacy. See the three rules below for a dose of reality.
Rule 1: The Writer Still Has to Ask the Right Questions
The writer still has to research the interview subject and write interesting questions for a Q&A style interview. I once read an interview with a famous interviewer (who was writing in the traditional interview style), and he said his secret was “reading everything ever written about his subject.” Nowadays this is both easier and next to impossible, depending on how famous an interview subject is.
Experience interviewing is important, but experience also teaches the value of research. Not only does research generate better questions (you quickly find out what questions your subject has been asked before and is probably tired of answering), but research also gives the interviewer confidence, even if you are working through a handler.
People who have been interviewed many times will likely know immediately if you are a novice, and, as a professional, are likely to value you more if your research makes it obvious that you aspire to be a professional too. If you are interviewing someone who has never been interviewed, your research on subject matter (if not on the person) will help put him or her at ease. Research shows that the interviewer cares.
Rule 2: Extensive Editing Needed As Usual
Although celebrities and authors are probably more articulate than they used to be because they are interviewed more often, don’t think what they say is necessarily easy to read. You are still writing an interview, and not merely producing a transcript. The writer needs to do extensive cutting and editing.
When I write interviews for case studies/success stories, I always keep in mind that the subject wants to sound intelligent, even if they lose their train of thought and digress during an answer. I have done many interviews, and have never yet had a subject ask me to “dumb down” what they were quoted as saying in the final draft.
Rule 3: “Flow” Is Just as Critical
Along with editing what the subject said, a writer also has to be aware of the “flow” of the questions in a Q&A style interview and keep the reader interested. This is no small task, if for no other reason than the writer has to make sure there is no repetition, which can be deadly.
Of course, the writer always needs an introductory question and a closing question, but the progression in between, whether the writer is using the old stand-by (chronology) or something else. For example, an interview with an author who has written plays and film scripts and novels and perhaps even poetry might be structured by genre. Or chronology and genre can be mixed, along with awards or the immediate reason for the interview. The possibilities are endless as long as there is a feeling of continuity and not chaos.