Written Interviews and things I learned while doing them

Given that I’m busy for the whole day today and given that I haven’t managed to finish the transcriptions for my other interviews, I figured it’d be nice to talk about something that has to do with interviews… but often seems overlooked… and that is: Doing written interviews is rough.

There are a lot of intricacies to interviews that many people may not know about, actually. Obviously, I’m included in that as well. I didn’t know about a lot of this for ages!

For starters, there is a huge difference between interviews that you do in person and interviews that are written from the beginning.

When you send someone questions and they answer them, they often think a lot about what they want to say or they just send you answers that they already had prepared in case specific questions are asked.

You don’t really get surprising or “interesting” answers because of that. A lot of it feels a bit off or too practised if that makes sense. Especially when you talk about upcoming games, for instance, you kind of want to hear answers that involve new information that isn’t already covered in press releases, trailers, and store pages, after all!

Recently, I talked to someone from TellTale Games, for example, and as you’ll see when that interview is out, I wasn’t able to get any new info on The Wolf Among Us 2, which in my opinion was a bit of a bummer… but I also don’t want to cost someone their job, haha.

When you record interviews spontaneously, however, you have a chance of getting unique perspectives and interesting answers from people when you catch them off guard. Depending on who you ask, you’ll get a different answer as well. Talking to the Creative Director, the Game Director, the Lead Designer, the PR person, the Narrative Designer or the Art Director (or any other title) will yield different answers to the same question at times, which I personally find rather interesting and exciting!

But when it comes to actually transcribing recorded interviews into a written format, there are intricacies to what you can and cannot do or rather what you should and shouldn’t do.

Changing the wording?

There may be times when you can change out a phrase for something else if you know what they meant but want to word it differently to make it shorter or less wordy… this, however, is sometimes frowned upon because it changes the interview’s character.

People have different mannerisms, ways of speaking, and frankly, vocabularies. By changing phrases, inserting words, or even translating things, you can end up falsifying what people said. On top of that, you may end up changing the direction of the interview and essentially adding an opinion to the interview that isn’t the interviewed person’s but rather your own – something you should avoid.

Obviously, you can correct sentences by adding words so that they become readable – but then you’ll need to clearly label that, often indicated by brackets of various shapes. If I remember correctly, paraphrasing words requires you to use square brackets. Inserting words requires normal brackets. When you leave out things, you do the “(…)” thing. There are some rules to it, which is nice as it allows the reader to understand what people actually have said and what you inserted.

But while you shouldn’t change the wording and phrasing of interviews, you can omit certain things as long as it doesn’t change the meaning of sentences.

As an example, I used to include “Uhm” and other filler words in interviews. I just remove those because the people I interviewed weren’t trained speakers or whatever. They’re people. If they have to think about something, a “Uhm” or two makes their way into the recording, obviously. I also did mention waiting for a long time for an answer in an interview once – something I corrected later, I think. Don’t do that. That’s bad.

Meanwhile, you’ll have to question when to add line breaks and when to add punctuation and stuff. It can be a bit hard to estimate when the right time for that is in a written interview as people will often formulate long sentences that get extended over and over again via conjunctions.

I tend to add line breaks where they make sense, especially when paragraphs have gotten too long. At the same time, I sometimes will remove an “And” and add a period in the middle there before continuing the sentence.

It makes the reading experience better without falsifying the contents.

My key advice for anyone trying to tackle interviews that are recorded in person but transcribed for an article would be:

Question twice, write once!

Ask yourself what the meaning of a sentence is.

Then ask yourself if changing the punctuation in the way you want to do would change the meaning of said sentence.

If the answer is yes, don’t do it. If the answer is no, go ahead.

At the same time, you may wonder if specific parts are necessary for the answer to the question – and again, you can leave things out.

At last, when the answer doesn’t quite fit the question, change the question. Word it differently so that it fits the answer.

At least, that’s my advice here. Doing interviews is fun but if you send people a bunch of questions, that may not end up going too well – something I learned this time around as well.

Rather, I enjoyed doing the in-person interviews again a lot more than the previous interviews I did and I think that the work that comes with transcribing them really is worth it because of how interesting the different perspectives on game design are!

What do you think? Are there other things that people should watch out for? Did I get something wrong? Did I tell you about something you didn’t know already? Let me know! Would love to hear your thoughts!

This post was first published on Indiecator by Dan Indiecator aka MagiWasTaken. If you like what you see here and want to see more, you can check me out on Twitch and YouTube as well. If you find this post on a website other than Indiecator.org, please write an e-mail to me. Thank you!

One thought on “Written Interviews and things I learned while doing them

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  1. I’m not able to do audio or video interviews due to my health conditions, I simply don’t have the energy and the translations take forever even with translation software. To add the spontaneity and to help questions flow I do my interviews in blocks of 2-3, so I can respond to something they have said, and then rearrange things. It also means that the person I’m interviewing doesn’t know what’s coming.

    I would also add to anyone doing interviews to always be aware of accessibility. Ask the person you are interviewing if they have any accessibility needs. Not everyone is comfortable letting them be known. If you’re working from a text document let them know that they can change the text size, for example. It may seem like a small thing, but there are people out there who yell at people for doing something as simple as that without permission.

    Also, the method that I mentioned I use can be quite anxiety inducing for some people so if you ever choose to do that, again let them know you can send all the questions. Likewise, sending all the questions in one go can be extremely daunting especially if there are a lot of them.

    The best thing is to always check in with everyone who you’re interviewing how they want to proceed, don’t just assume that because they haven’t openly identified as disabled or neurodiverse that they don’t have accessibility needs.


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