NPR: The Riddler

Sawartsky’s Seven Deadly Sins

  1. Asking a non-question
  2. Asking a double-barreled question
  3. Overloading your question
  4. Putting remarks into your question
  5. Including trigger words in your question
  6. Including hyperbole in your question
  7. Asking a close-ended question


Peter Rinearson, The Seattle Times:

One thing I learned early on as a reporter, that it’s a lot better looking stupid to your sources than looking stupid to your readers. Throughout my career I’ve confronted people who have said something to me in a very offhand way as if I should know exactly what they are talking about. And I’ve said, ‘Wait a minute, what are you talking about?’ I think sometimes their esteem for me fell a little bit as a result of asking the question, but I’d much rather have that than having to write around some point to camouflage the fact that I didn’t know what I was talking about or else get it wrong.

From Radio Diaries: includes “is one simple foolproof question that always works…”

From Radio College:

Let people talk. Allow silence. Don’t always jump in with questions. Often, some truth will follow a silence. Let people know they can repeat things — that you’re not on the air — it’s ok to screw up. And remember to offer something of yourself. Don’t just take. Think of the listener’s innocence; ask the obvious, along with the subtle.

If you interrupt or overlap your voice with your interviewee’s, you won’t be able to edit yourself out. This will eliminate that sense of the interviewee communicating directly with the listener; instead the listener will be an eavesdropper on your conversation. It commits you to a production decision. If you want to leave your production options open, don’t laugh out loud, or stick in “uh-huh” or other vocal affirmations. You must let your subjects know you’re with them, but use head nods, eye contact and develop a silent knee-slap and guffaw.


  • Be prepared
  • Equipment
  • Questions
  • Punctuality
  • Plan for your location
  • Be friendly
  • Explain your purpose


  • “Why?”
  • Silent response and eye contact
  • Get the interviewee to show you, it may trigger enriched descriptions and anecdotes.
  • Don’t worry about flubbing your questions. Get the right question
  • On and off the record
  • Expected the unexpected


  • “Is there anything you’d like to add?”
  • Keep the tape running
  • Other people to talk to
  • Ask about follow-ups
  • Thank your interviewee
  • Raw sounds and ambient noise

Further Reading