Last week I conducted an interview with a professional technical communicator for an assignment in the module Workplace Issues in Professional and Technical Communication. The goal of the interview was to learn as much about the interviewee and their work as a technical writer. Bizarrely, I have been interviewed recently myself, using a new app called ZCast which allows users to create a live podcast using their phone. But I had never played the role of the interviewer before, and so I was feeling more than a little apprehensive about the whole situation.
Interviewing is an important skill for technical writers, as they often have to gather information from subject matter experts about the product for which they are producing documentation. In fact, as this article points out, content creators (and technical writers) should probably think like journalists in many respects.
While conducting an interview with an expert can seem intimidating, technical writers can prepare for it in many ways. As part of this assignment, our instructor urged us to make out a series of questions for the interview. These questions were grouped into six main topics, which covered subjects such as the interviewee’s career path, their company, their documentation production process, and the software and tools that they use. Having this list to use as a guide during the interview certainly helped me feel more prepared before the meeting.
The interview itself took place in a meeting room at the interviewee’s workplace. I had intended to record the interview using a digital voice recorder, and had tested it out that morning to make sure everything was working. But when I switched the device on and pressed the record button, nothing happened. In fact, none of the buttons were responding. This was a terrible start to the interview. But thanks to the comments on the Sulis discussion forum, I remembered that I could use my phone as a back-up voice recorder. And that, thankfully, worked out perfectly.
The interview itself was a bit of a whirlwind. My interviewee had plenty to talk about, and needed little encouragement to expand on his answers. In fact, I could have stayed talking with him for at least another 30 minutes after we finished. As it was, I ran out of time before I could ask him all of the questions on my list. Nonetheless, I learned valuable information about the company he worked for and the type of projects that they are involved with.
The next step in this assignment is to produce a report and a screencast based on the information obtained from the interview. So over the next few weeks, I will compile the interview transcripts from the audio on my phone, and learn how to use Adobe Captivate to create a screencast. Hopefully, I will not have any more technical difficulties. But as I have learned, it never hurts to be over-prepared.