I find myself doing interviews by email on occasion, or at least getting the preliminaries out of the way electronically, rather than by phone or in person. Sometimes I use email not because of distance, but because of the interview subject’s desire to prepare in advance. They’re afraid of not “knowing” the answers on the phone, so they’ll ask for a few questions up front, especially if they’re not used to talking to a writer. That’s true when I’m wearing my magazine-journalist hat or my corporate-communications one.

When I need to interview someone in a faraway time zone, email can be very handy, particularly when you add a language barrier to the time difference. Right now I’m trying to write an article about a client site in France. If we had to stumble through the interview over the phone, each of us speaking a foreign tongue, it would be disastrous. (In my case, I might be able to ask the questions, but I probably wouldn’t understand the answers. When things are in writing, you have time to translate.)

If you are using email as an interview tool, check out Kim Hart’s article, InBox Journalism, in the American Journalism Review.

Hat tip to Amy Gahran at the Contentious blog.


  1. I hate doing email interviews. Hate them. 🙁 I find it much easier to talk than type.

    I get a lot of requests for email interviews and I think sometimes it’s easier for the interviewer — after all, it saves them time transcribing the interview.

    But as the interviewee, it’s a longer process for us and a lot of the nuances and subtleties are lost in email. I once cracked a joke in email and the person took it seriously; the resulting quote made me look like a buffoon (or, perhaps more accurately, exposed me for the buffoon I am). 😉

  2. Tod, you raise some interesting points.
    1. I don’t think you’re a buffoon. However, I may find out for sure when we meet at the Toronto Podcasters’ Meetup this week. 😉
    2. You are right: the email interview CAN be more work for the interviewee (although some interviewees prefer to talk by email because they can prepare and they are less likely to be misquoted). I don’t think the journalist/writer should ever impose an email interview on the subject.
    Thanks for your comments!


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