Interviews Using iPhone

I remember the “olden days” when conducting an interview required a small recorder. It was better than hand-written notes because there was no better option.

Now there is the smart phone. When my husband talked me into getting one, I was hesitant because I thought all I needed was a simple cell phone. Now my old cell phone is out-dated. I got spoiled by texting, and email ready at hand. Then I got spoiled by the GPS when we got lost on some country road. I use those features all the time.

I especially became addicted to the voice recorder for doing interviews. I still do written notes on my sheet of questions. It helps me stay organized. When I do the transcription back in my office, the written questions and notes keep me on track.  I do not ask the same questions and my notes help me keep up with those I did ask.  I have a copy of the questions as a document on my desktop which I use. I fill in the blanks using the recording and my notes. I highlight the asked questions for later ease of use.

The recording provides the emotion as answers are given. I also learn something each time, by the way I ask my questions. I do an evaluation to make improvements for the next interview.

I am working on a biography which is requiring multiple interviews. My subject is a very interesting person, well-known, but now deceased. When I listen to the recordings, I re-live the conversation with total pleasure. They would make an interesting audio book, if I chose that option.

When I get closer to the final draft, I will reveal my subject.

It would be interesting to know how other authors conduct interviews and also at what point the subject is revealed.



Today is my birthday. Do you think I would be allowed to forget it? I mean, when I was a kid many years ago, I loved birthdays and wanted to hear “Happy Birthday”. But that was then and this is now. I had a second thought. Wanting to forget is akin to forgetting my Mother. After-all, she made my birthday possible. It was a day of birth for her, too. I actually considered that several years ago when I sent her a birthday card for my birthday. She was surprised and pleased.

It started early this morning. A friend traveling out of town took time to call me with a birthday.

When I was working on a story, A Facebook message flashed on my screen telling me someone had posted on my page. I checked it out and found more than one. This was repeated several times during the day. You guessed it. Birthday greetings. I had to smile. It was nice to be remembered. Everyone is busy, and yet, they took time to be thoughtful.

I admit, I have gone back and forth on this birthday thing. When I was teaching high school, it was common for birthdays of students, teachers, and office personnel to have their birthdays announced on the intercom. I didn’t want that, so I requested mine be omitted. I knew at least one of my students would surely ask, “How old are you”? I could do without that. Pride? or what?

So, when the morning announcements were given, I had escaped.  It didn’t last long. Just before lunch, my classroom door opened and in walked a couple of my friends. They were carrying a wrapped gift, a lunch and slice of cake!

My secret was out.

The room sounded like a beehive in my room with questions from every direction. They wanted to know why by birthday had not been announced. Birthday greetings were expressed with excitement. And, then there came THAT question from one of my male students. He was verbally pounced on by a couple of girls coming to my defense, “You don’t ask a lady that question”. Poor kid. He was embarrassed and said no more, except “Happy Birthday, Mrs. Larsen”. It spread from class and back again, even to those in previous classes. It lasted until the final bell. That proved none of my students hated me even when they didn’t always enjoy classwork.

When you really thing about it, a birthday  should be a happy day. I’ve had so many things to be grateful for all these years of my life. I have a wonderful family, my mother is 94 and she has her memory. I have hundreds of friends. I have a roof above my head and walls to keep me safe. I have plenty of food and more clothes than I need. I have faith and hope in the future. I can write stories and articles on my website and blog. I have the opportunity to write a couple of books. I’m included in a couple of writers’ groups writing an anthology.

My gratitude list could, like yours, go on and on. One thing leads to another and then another.

I hope I have many more birthdays. How else can I get to be 100? That would be wonderful, if I can hold onto my gratitude list and make it grow.


Conducting Interviews

I did my first interview on  Saturday using my iPhone as recorder.

Previous to this device, I used a small cassette recorder. The cassettes were about the size of two 9 volt batteries. It was ok until something better was developed. The iPhone.

I went to the “Extras” square and clicked on Voice Memos. I played around with that until I learned how it functioned.

When I was set up for the interview, it was a little unnerving because I couldn’t really see how it was doing its job. I decided to trust it.  But, as a backup I wrote the conversation as well as I could since I never learned shorthand.  That wasn’t too bad because I had my printed list as I will describe later in this article.

I was interviewing a couple about my biography subject whom they both knew very well. They were so relaxed and pleased to do the interview that it became very casual. They were very easy to visit with around their dining room table. T’wood every interview go that well!  In response to my questions, they shared story after story that were heartwarming and humorous. It was like visiting with old friends.

It was too easy to forget that it was an interview. I was a little sad about coming to the end of my questions. I had promised only an hour and he had to get back to work.

Back at my desk, I began my transcription. It was much easier than I expected. The one thing that really got my attention was my own voice! I had forgotten how different it sounds on a recording and every one is a little different. Aside from just the sound of my voice was the back and forth conversation. I could hear the laughter from all three of us.

As I did the transcription to my computer, I realized something I wish to share. Each interview has its own atmosphere from casual to serious to challenging.

It is important to consider the person being interviewed. What is known about the person? It the person likely to cooperate or be hesitant, friendly or antagonistic?  If for a biography, as my interview was, what was the relationship between the interviewee and the subject? If the interview is regarding a political or historical topic, do you know how the person feels about it?  If it is a skill related subject, what is the person likely to know about it? I think you, my reader, will understand the basic idea here and be able to adapt it to your needs. The answers to these questions will aide the interviewer in establishing the atmosphere.

Besides the answers to those questions will be the need to quickly evaluate the interviewee’s comfort level before getting into the question and answer period. That can be done with a brief get-acquainted time with a couple of casual questions. This will prevent any misunderstanding and wrong expectations. It will also help your interviewee to relax and get to know your personality.

A previous week I posted list of interview questions. It is helpful to print your questions with plenty of note taking space between each one. I make a copy for each time and simply check-mark those I plan to use. Having the full list available helps when the interviewee surprises you with information that fits an un-checked question.  These notes will help with transcription because you’ll be organized with the questions on paper as well.

Another concern to consider is the location of the interview. If it is the your place of business, you’ll will be in charge. That is important to consider if the interviewee is prone to be confrontational – he/she can pack up and leave if desired, perhaps spoiling the interview.

If it is in his location, you can call an end to the interview when it is time and leave.

If it’s held in a neutral location, such as a room at the library,  or a restaurant, the level of comfort will be more equal.  Consider how private the conversation needs to be.

I’ve had only one interview that I felt completely unhappy with. I was interviewing a couple of glass blowers for a magazine article. It wasn’t planned. It was a spur of the moment opportunity because I met them at a carnival. We could only talk at their display area and they would be gone the next day. There was no opportunity to plan a different time and place. It was before the days of email. They accepted my request to interview them during their break. It was a very noisy place. That little recorder I mentioned above was in my bag as usual. I recorded the interview as well as possible.  Back in my office, I discovered the recording was bad, really bad, unusable.  I might have saved the opportunity if I had merely asked for an address to send them my list of questions or arranged a phone interview. Hindsight does not replace foresight!

So, always be ready for the unexpected.  If you are not prepared, they will surely happen. It must be a Murphy’s law!

Everyone who has done an interview has a story to tell. It may be the worst or best, memorable in some way.  I would love to hear about yours.

Next week I will share ideas for other interview formats and any stories my readers wish to share.  It will be fun.

Interview Questions for Relative Biography Interview Questions to present to family member or friend of the subject of the biography.

NOTE: of course the relationship of the person being interviewed to the subject will need to be considered in choosing the questions.

When and where was _______________ born?

Are there any interesting stories surrounding the birth?

What is your earliest memory of this person?

In what way has this person influenced your life?

Did this person have a nickname? How did it happen to be given?

What was this person’s favorite game as a young child? Teen? Adult?

Did this person have a hobby? Sport?

Did this person like school?  A favorite or less favorite class?

How would you describe this person socially or academically?

Was this person involved it politics? How?

What would be the most surprising thing about this person most people would not know?

How would you introduce this person to your neighbor?

How would you describe this person to someone who needed to find him in a crowd?

Was this person afraid of anything?

Was this person ever in an accident?

What did this person do during free time?

What was this person’s career? More than one?

What was the funniest thing that ever happened involving this person?

The happiest thing?

Most embarrassing moment?

Frightening moment?

Talents and skills?

If this person is deceased, what would be important to share? Time? Place?     Circumstances?

How do you think this person would want to be remembered?

What special things did you do together?    Think of your own family or friend related questions. or friend of a biography subject.


I’m writing the biography of a deceased gentleman. It will require interviews of multiple family members, friends and co-workers.

I searched online for suggested questions, to simplify the process. I only found questions appropriate for the subject of the biography. Therefore, I adapted the questions available to fit my needs.

Perhaps this article will be useful to another biographer. Thank you for visiting my site. I welcome any question suggestions.