Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung e.V.

Chapter 5 – Forensic interviewing

The basic principles of planning and preparation applies to any interview situation. However, an investigative reporting project puts different demands on your skills and requires a different emphasis in your approach. Timing is of the essence, and the context is different. For this reason, you will use a different strategy, and your questioning technique will aim to achieve different goals.
  • Interview preparation is key. Devote as much time to research, collecting primary documents, question planning and rehearsal as you can.
  • Set up the interview in a way that suits the story and circumstances.
  • Lose the attitude. Even in interviews that may become adversarial, a calm, neutral demeanour and questioning style will produce better results.
  • Have a strategy for the whole interview. Always move from warm-up and broad, less threatening questions towards more precise, focused questions that will allow you to pin the interviewee down on key aspects.
  • Use data-mapping techniques to pinpoint the areas of short information and contradiction your interview needs to deal with.
  • Keep questions clear, simple and direct.
  • Establish ground rules (e.g. on/off record) and confirm basic information at the start of an interview.
  • Follow-up, re-phrase or reflect back to get answers that are equally clear and direct.
  • Take your time and don’t be scared of silences.
  • Understand and strategise in relation to the motivations of spin doctors.
  • Handle reluctant or fearful interviewees kindly and carefully – but don’t let them off the hook.
  • Establish support structures and strategies to help you deal with threats and intimidation.
  • Use covert interviewing techniques only after careful, ethical decision-making – and be sure you have the technical skills to carry them off.
  • Never take interview answers out of context.

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