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 1. Structure

Structure your interview in a way that, even if the interview is largely unsuccessful, you will still retrieve some of the information you needed.

  1. 1.   Warm up (establishing a human relationship or a mutual bond)
  2. 2.   Basic information, including confirming known facts
  3. 3.   'Soft' questions
  4. 4.   'Hard' questions

 2. Early Phase

Estimate how much time the source will need to feel comfortable opening up. However, try to keep the early phases of the interview short and light – compatible with cultural courtesy requirements – and get to the point as swiftly as you can. Make sure your interview follows a logical structure by first establish the information you will need to ask more challenging questions later on. Your questions must be easy to understand, clear and to the point. A group of shorter questions that build on one another is better than a long rambling question where your source could potentially get lost. Practice these questions in advance. Avoid multi-part questions, like ‘Minister, are you aware of tender irregularities, did you supervise the process and why did so and so get the contract?’ You will only get an answer to one part – usually the part your source actually wants to discuss.

 3. Negatives

Avoid double negatives, as these introduce unnecessary confusion. For example: ‘Isn't it true that you didn't pay the money back?’ Such questions can prompt either an answer about the money, or the truthfulness of the statement. ‘Is it true that you did not pay back the money?’ is much simpler and clearer; ‘Did you pay back the money?’ is even better.

 4. Basics

Include confirmation questions. These are questions to which you know the answer. They will help cover the basics, and give you a sense of the accuracy of your source. If your interviewee is bemused by the simplicity of the question, do not take offence. You do not need to but you can explain – ‘Readers need this in your own words, not mine.’

 5. Open vs. Closed

Be aware of the difference between closed questions (in other words, those that invite a yes, no or one-word answer) and open questions (those that encourage a source to expand on their ideas). Mix open and closed questions, and use closed questions only for deliberate goals.