Re: Interviewing (Was: Re: What may new subscribers post?)

Subject: Re: Interviewing (Was: Re: What may new subscribers post?)
From: Bill Sullivan <bsullivan -at- SMTPLINK -dot- DELTECPOWER -dot- COM>
Date: Tue, 24 Sep 1996 13:24:48 -0700


Guy says:

>When you are looking for detail, dumping the responsibility on the
interviewee is the most effective. May seem cruel, but the
interviewee is then tasked with saying something. Sometimes you get
unexpected information and the interview takes off in a different

I wouldn't call it "dumping the responsibility on the interviewee."
I would call it, to borrow a term used by one author, "active
listening." When someone tells you something, you can repeat what
the person says in a "golly, gee" tone of bewilderment, as though you
had just been given the Holy Grail, or you can challenge the person,
repeating the words as if to ask "Do you realy mean that?" Whatever
your tone, you show your subject you are listening, and your mind is
going, and you are inviting him or her to keep going.

As for getting unexpected information and the subject taking off in a
new direction, you are absolutely right, Guy. In an interview, that's
fine. Whether your tone takes the tone of a compliment or a challenge
or perhaps something else (I am sure I have not considered all the
options this morning), you open the door for the person to amplify or
clarify or build on or defend what he or she just said. The two of
you thus begin a journey.

The above may be all well and good for a technical journalist, or a
technical marcom writer looking for new ways to romance the product.
But in writing software user manuals (what most TECHWR-L types do), I
have had interviews where there were a fixed number of options on the
dialog box I was documenting and I wanted to know what would happen
with each option. The SME would want to give me a short (well, maybe
not so short) course in physics -- more information than I had time
for. When that has happened, I have found myself wanting to stop the
interview and get back to my questions so I could get the heck out of
there and start writing.

So depending on your objective, you either have to let the response
flow and meander, or you have to keep it on track. We tech writers
frequently have to do both things, just one of the many challenges of
this trade of ours.

Bill Sullivan
bsullivan -at- deltecpower -dot- com
San Diego, California

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