Which Interview Type is Best: Phone or Email?

Writers of all types conduct interviews. Whether you're doing news work, drafting marketing content or writing fiction, reaching out to experts for insight on a topic strengthens your writing.
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Writers of all types conduct interviews. Whether you’re doing news work, drafting marketing content or writing fiction, reaching out to experts for insight on a topic strengthens your writing. So, do it.

But, how?

There’s an ongoing debate between interviewing people by phone versus sending questions over an email.

But, let’s back up first.

The number one preferred method of doing an interview is in person. You can see the person’s emotions, follow-up with quick unexpected questions or view extra materials together in person as you chat. But with looming deadlines, over scheduled days and geography physically separating people, it’s not always possible to have a sit-down chat.

So, the next best option is to converse over the phone or email. Each of these methods has benefits and drawbacks. So, let’s look at these together so you can decide what works best for your situation.

The Phone Interview

When you need to clarify a fact or get a quick tip, talking with an expert on the phone is the perfect solution. I’ll bet you have a phone within arms reach right now, making it a convenient way to connect while you’re at the keyboard.

However, for the expert on the other end, finding time to do a phone interview isn’t as simple. If they’re in the middle of their work day, they may already have appointments lined up making it difficult to fit your interview into the day. So, plan to schedule your chat ahead of time. I’ve never had good luck with cold-calling experts. Plus, calling out of-the-blue doesn’t give them time to think through your topic so they can give you thoughtful answers.

When I do phone interviews, I prefer to record the conversation so I can be more present in the chat and not be worried about taking notes fast enough. This ensures quotes are accurate and allows me to listen to the conversation again to better understand complex topics.

Then, I transcribe the audio file, so I have a text document to work with when it comes to writing. Sure, you can hire a transcription service to do this step, but that eats away at how much you’re earning for writing the piece. I usually opt to transcribe interviews myself or ask the client if they can provide this service for me.

When I chat with an expert on the phone, I feel like I can really get to know the person. The banter before and after the interview is personal, you laugh together and often you follow-up later by email or on social media after making a true connection.

The Email Interview

Another way to connect with experts is through email. Whether a source is provided for you, or you use a service like HARO or SourceBottle, many of the respondents are happy to converse through email messages.

When I’m working on deadline, or at odd hours of the day, I prefer to send my questions over email. Why? The expert can read, think about, then answer my questions on their time schedule. Many, many times I’ve had doctors and veterinarians says they’ll get back to me after work when they have time to really think through the questions. Sure, their email responses may be time stamped at 10pm or even 3am, but they’re working on the questions at their pace, when they have the time.

Once I receive the responses, I can take my time going through their comments and thinking of any follow-up questions I may need to ask to clarify complex ideas or industry lingo that may not be understandable by a reader.

Finally, I go to the email when writing and use direct quotes (I know they’re 100 percent accurate, because the expert wrote it!), copy and paste names (to avoid misspellings) and verify numbers and dates.

However, email responses can often lack genuine emotion or the random little stories that come up when you have a chance to have a live conversation with a person. But, I find throwing in an unexpected thought-provoking question at the end of the email can often open up the person so you get something really unique to relay to your readers.

When interviewing via email, always let the person know they can add additional comments that they think might fit with the topic. After all, they’re the expert!

Do you do interviews to support your writing? How do you prefer to connect to experts? Let’s chat in the comments below!

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3 Replies to “Which Interview Type is Best: Phone or Email?”

  1. Very good points. I would just add two things:
    1. Always be clear with a source that you are recording the interview; this is not only polite and ethical, it may also be the law depending on what state you and the source are in. If the source is in a two-party consent state, he or she could insist you not record.
    2. Some publications/editors may have rules/guidelines when it comes to email interviews. Just be clear on what they are.

    1. Hi Arun! Thanks for commenting! Both excellent tips to add to the conversation! I use a voice recording app on my cellphone for phone interviews, and always mention when I’m using it. It’s required in my state, but also, I think it’s important for the person on the other end to know I’m recording and why I do it — for accuracy! As far as email interviews, I haven’t had too many editors give separate guidelines for those, but as this method of interviewing becomes more popular, I think we’ll see more regulations, especially when working via a PR firm. You just never know who is really answering those emails — the source or their PR rep! ~Angela

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