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Matt brought up a very interesting point when he said:
>I suppose it's not so much "playing dumb" as it is showing a small "gap"
>in the knowledge you want to extract.
I don't know how many people on the list have ever
worked as journalists, but the journalists I know
survive by the strength of their interviewing skills. If
a journalist can't extract information out of people,
they're soon out of a job.
Some of the tricks of the trade that journalists
- Playing dumb - Knowing nothing (or only a little bit)
about your subject can be an advantage. Interviewees
generally like to show off their knowledge of a subject.
If you are unable to "talk the talk" reasonably quickly,
however, your interview subject may get frustrated
and give up on you. So, don't "play" dumb for too
- Silence and awkward pauses - Saying nothing
unnerves interview subjects and can cause them to
blurt out information that they would not otherwise
reveal. If you are involved in a prolonged Q&A
session, wait for a few heartbeats before you jump
in with the next question. Give the interview subject
a chance to refect on what they've said and "fill in
the gaps" of their answer.
- Deliberately stating or repeating information that
is incorrect - "So you're saying that ..." will always
get an interview subject's attention, and can be used
to clarify points or "trick" the interview subject into
giving you a better answer. Most of the journalists I
know only use this approach if the interview subject is
trying to withold information, or is talking over their
Which makes me wonder how many technical writing
programs out there actually teach interviewing skills?
I know that most journalism programs touch upon
interviewing skills in introductory and advanced
courses, but almost every technical writing program
I have looked at ignores this human interaction element
of the profession.