I will be meeting someone soon for a multi-session interview where I will be gathering information for the book i am writing about that person's life. I am not a journalist or a novelist nor have I conducted an interview before. The subject I will be asking her about spans most of her life. The topic I am very well educated in but the interviewee I am not. I have read every article I can find about interviewing for articles or novels. I have even started to practice interviewing people I know. I will be recording the interviewee at their house. I have developed long list of questions and have been practicing ways to interject follow up questions such as "You mentioned '(interviewee quote)' can you tell me more about that?".

My problem lies in the questions I formulated. I went from basic questions hoping that the person would provide great detail to more specific open-ended questions. I don't know if I'm heading in the right direction? Now I feel that if she is someone that provides great detail by answering one question she may answer 3 or 4. I want to obtain great details of her life and experiences. Is having many open ended questions good or should I cut back on my questions? Should I ask how that made her feel or to describe what she saw, smelled, and heard after she has answered the question so that I can accumulate more detail of events? How do I ask a question about a traumatic experience?

Some question I am asking is "Tell me about your childhood?", "Can you describe your house?" And "Tell me about your father at the time?" Are these good questions? Can someone provide me with good sample interview questions?

  • 1
    How'd your interview go?
    – Thom
    Oct 12, 2015 at 14:13
  • 1
    So during the interview i was nervous (obviously) and also i had a small language barrier. English was not her first language and she spoke very quietly so during the interview i was struggling to understand. Sometimes i would ask her a question she already answered. I left the interview confused. Luckily i recorded the interview and while transcribing the audio (currently doing that now) was able to learn so much more. I started to create a time line, line up and adjust my next questions and i will also bring a large visual poster that she can help me fill out.
    – user26409
    Oct 12, 2015 at 14:21
  • Sounds like you're going to be more confident next time and you have a plan. Well done.
    – Thom
    Oct 12, 2015 at 14:22
  • The first time is always the worst for anything. Thank you.
    – user26409
    Oct 12, 2015 at 14:29

2 Answers 2


I am not an expert at all in these types of matters, but thought I'd put in my $.02.

I would say that the open ended questions are definitely the way to start. Get them talking. Then, when you move to the more specific questions, think about if that question has already been answered before asking it again.

And if the question's something like, "Did the subject have any hobbies" you can change it to show that your listening. For example, "You said they liked basketball, did the subject have any other hobbies?"

It sounds to me that you've done your due diligence and prepared as well as you can. "For all things, there comes a first time."

Trust yourself and your preparation. You are clearly interested in the subject, let that lead. The questions you want answered are going to be the questions the reader wants answered.


  • Thank you. The encouragement definitely is helping my nerves. Today is the first day of maybe 4 to 5 meetings. After this interview i will adjust my next questions based on the information i am given. The interview will be recorded so that i can review the information and will and pay more attention to the person. Here goes nothing...
    – user26409
    Oct 7, 2015 at 15:37

I also need a few interview questions but questions like, “When were you born?” are good to start off with. Other questions could be:

  • What year did they graduate high school and college?
  • Did they play sports in college, and if so, what sports?
  • Did they play any instruments?
  • Were they ever married, and if so, in what year?
  • Do they have kids, and if so, how many and what age(s) are they?

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