Making the most of unstructured interviews

Why the right questions get the best answers

Many people see interviews as something to be dreaded. Few enjoy being put on the spot and having to answer questions from strangers. Others may be eager to tell you all about their brilliant project or their specialism but focus too much on the detail rather than the value it delivers for their customers.

For our technical copywriters, an interview is a vital tool for information gathering and, if approached in the right way, one that can help to draw out the vital details of a story and create stronger marketing messages.

Some of our clients supply us with published sources such as press releases or technical papers and ask our copywriters to create new content from these materials. This approach can work quite well, but it has a significant limitation: writers can only base the new text on what has been supplied.

For most projects, our copywriters prefer to conduct interviews, over the phone or Internet, or face to face. This makes it easier to understand the client’s message and gather the information necessary to get that message across to readers. Interviews can be used to discuss the context of a story, define its key messages and clarify technical details. It also enables our writers to follow up on unexpected angles that emerge during conversation.

We work hard to put interviewees at ease and help them to prepare by agreeing the topic areas we need to discuss in advance.

Not just reading a list of questions

A structured interview, the kind you typically face when applying for a job, is essentially a list of questions asked in sequence that lead towards a more-or-less predictable conclusion. At RSK Communication Services, we do things differently. Our interviews are usually unstructured, but that does not mean they are chaotic.

Our approach is informal and free flowing: more like a conversation than a traditional interview. Some of the questions may have been prepared and shared in advance. This helps us to draw out key facts for the topic the client wants to talk about, but there will be opportunities to deviate from the set questions. This is part of our research process and it is what differentiates an in-depth, unstructured interview from everyday conversation. The interviewer can discover important information that did not seem relevant before the interview and ask the participant to provide more details on the new topic.

Unstructured interviews are particularly useful when gathering information about projects that involve business or technology case studies: situations where the personal experiences of the people involved form a crucial part of the message.

Experience, confidence and insight

Of course, it is not always perfect. Sometimes, people just do not want to be interviewed or they are underprepared or simply not the right person (“Actually, someone else did all of the experimental work on this.”). When our interviewers run into problems like these, we have the experience, confidence and insight to salvage good content and find out who we should be talking to.

Most of the interviews we conduct are constructive. They provide excellent input for our writers, establish greater trust when clients realise that we really do understand their business and can help to maximise the impact of marketing messages.