If you’re tasked with conducting a subject matter interview, crafting a list of interview questions might seem straightforward.

Until you sit down to write them.

It’s sneakily hard to do because so much is riding on this 30- or 60-minute conversation. That’s why I consider crafting interview questions a sacred act. It’s one my my favorite things to do on the job.

Keys to writing good interview questions

1. Write them like you’d say them. This is a conversation, not a coroner’s inquiry. Tone and pace matter almost as much as the words we use when we ask questions. The difference between a question that sounds genuinely asked and one that sounds read from a list is jarring.

2. Answer your own questions. “First thought best thought?” It worked for Jack Kerouac but doesn’t hold up here. Take a second (and third, and fourth) look at the questions in your list. If you’re asking about basic facts or more rudimentary concepts, see if you can get those answers on your own. I’ve found that doing this allows me to ask higher-order questions. It ensures you’re using your subject’s time to its highest purpose, and it’ll show up in the caliber of content you create.

3. Don’t “go down the list.” Good conversations live and breathe and move, and not always predictably. For that reason, interview question lists must not be treated like checklists. Be careful not make each question too dependent on those prior. Take a breath, read the questions with new eyes and ask yourself if you’re painting yourself deeper into a corner with every one you draft.

After all, if having a good conversation requires bouncing all over the sheet — or inventing totally new questions on the fly — then so be it. As with #1 above, good interviews have momentum. Don’t do anything to kill it.

An oldie but goodie

Similar concepts are covered in our content research and interview playbook. It’s a few years old, but it still holds up and will take maybe a minute to read. Check it out!