Asking the right questions gets you the right answers

Making a documentary can be a long and arduous process. But the reward is, if you do it right, you will have created a truly good documentary that can bring you acclaim and may even be referenced in the future.

But in the course of creating your documentary, there is a good chance that you may have to conduct interviews, talk to people in-the-know, and basically piece together all the facts that you have gathered and make them into a coherent whole. The first step, therefore, is crafting good questions that will give you all the information you need. In fact, creating a good set of questions is equally as important as getting the right answers.

Using questions answerable by ‘yes’ or ‘no’

There is always some debate about using questions answerable by yes or no in interviews. They say that if you want the gist of an event or a person’s opinion, you should stay away from these types of questions. We say you can use them, but keep them to a minimum. Rather, focus more on broader questions that allow a person to describe a situation, explain it, and elaborate on it. You can stick with questions answerable by yes or no at the beginning just to establish the facts and the background, but move on to broader questions as the interview moves along.

Questions which are too broad or general

Alternatively, you shouldn’t make your questions too general or broad, either. Give your interviewee questions that let them explain how it was in a particular situation rather than in a more general sense. For example, instead of asking how life was in the 70s, ask them how it was for them to work as a teacher (or whatever other profession they had) during that time.

Questions that are too long or are divided into different parts

When asking questions, try not to make them too long or in multiple parts. Break down your questions into several parts so your interviewee will not be confused. This also serves to help you organise the interview better afterwards.

Questions that are biased

We may not be aware of it, but sometimes, our own opinions tend to mingle with the questions we ask during interviews. For example, instead of asking a biased or leading question such as why they think their company is the best, ask how they like working for their company instead. This allows them to share their opinions – whether negative, positive, or even neutral.

Get as much information as you can beforehand

It won’t do to go into an interview without getting your facts straight first. This is where proper research is essential. In line with this, don’t ask your interviewee questions that you should already have known, such as what year a company began operations and the like. These are general facts that you should already know. But if the interviewee mentions a fact (such as a place or event) that you didn’t know about, then you can follow it up with questions as to where this place is or when that event occurred.

Additional pointers

It is always in your best interest to show respect to the person you are interviewing, even if you do not share the same opinions. Make sure they are comfortable, and if they do not want to answer a particular question, then do not pressure them. And, at the end of the interview, transcribe it. If you do not have time to do it yourself, have it done professionally so you can be assured of complete accuracy of all the facts.

This is where Alphabet can help. Use our interview transcription service to transcribe your documentary interviews today! You can contact us on +44 (0) 1707 260027.