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When profiling a person, your newshound instinct might hope for the best, which is often the nastiest story. But real facts are what you need. How do you get a 'feel' for another human being? You may start with what assets he/she owns and then examine his or her personal history. Talk to people who know or have worked with this individual. How do they describe him/her? Faced with such evidence, you may begin to doubt if you are on the right track with a nasty headline. But beware of 'inner circle superlatives' – you should not immediately trust every reference.

Structured interviews do not merely mean talking to people in journalistic interviewing style, although you will have those kinds of conversations, too. But you need to develop a systematic process for building your own databases and statistics, derived from what people have experienced or witnessed. You need to use structured interviews that compile a list of standardised questions you will ask all interviewees (although you will also add extra questions flexibly if something new comes up in an individual conversation). Because there are no written records you can compare to sources’ oral statements, it is vital that you compile information that is quantitative in nature. This practice allows you to conduct a mini-survey, and works as follows:

(1) Compile a comprehensive list of questions that can establish likely facts. For example, ask sources if they can remember when something first happened. In this way, you can assess when a certain problem started (e.g., rapes or assaults by strangers, crops dying, road deterioration, disappearances of local people), its possible causes (e.g., people might say things like ‘It was at the time when X also happened’), and others’ responses (‘We decided to move to town X’).

(2) Ask all sources the same standardised set of questions.

(3) Ask the questions precisely, seek concrete details and record the answers accurately. This is one kind of interviewing where closed-ended questions can be useful for getting definite answers, although you also need to seek more expressive and nuanced responses, too. Collectively, these answers can be used to build your own database.