By Jim Romeo
In many newspapers and trade publications nowadays, the quest for content is on! A very popular venue that seems to be making its tracks is the question-and-answer profile. It is a format that is both informative and effective in its message from experts or other opinion leaders.
The question-and-answer format is a print version of an afternoon talk show where the writer is host and the interviewee is “today’s guest.” The expert opens up an aperture into his or her knowledge bank and provides meaningful insight on a particular topic. Readers seem to love it as the bite-size questions and accompanying answers let them jump right to the content that interests them without getting lost somewhere in a longer narrative.
The New York Times seems to be using the question-and-answer format for all of its major sections. Recently I perused the Times to see which sections are using question-and-answer formats. I found that real estate uses them as do the arts, book review, business, travel and even sports sections. The real estate section uses them for informational inquiries by readers rather than profiling particular subject. We’ve all seen those before, but it must be appealing as it was a relatively new format for the paper.
A Q&A doesn’t have to be lengthy, though it often is. A six-question Q&A makes a great sidebar to a main feature article with multiple sources.
What makes a powerful question-and-answer profile?
Candid questions that get right to the kernel of the topic are key. Asking very pointed questions that are probably also on the readers’ minds is an important part of uncovering facts and unveiling what the reader needs to know.
To spice up such a profile, it’s important that the writer develop enterprising and sometimes controversial questions. Get right to the heart of a matter and be evocative!
One advantage of Q&As is that they are easy to write because the interviewee’s responses do the writing. Plus, questions may be repeated from topic to topic. One question I always ask is what I call the crystal ball question: “From your perspective, where will this industry be in three to five years?” Or, “What’s the difference between the market today than, say, three to five years ago?” These questions always get the subject thinking and evoke interesting perspectives that readers want and don’t always get in traditional features.
If you haven’t embraced the question-and-answer profile, try it. You’ll find that it’s a very effective means communication, isn’t difficult to compose and provides key information in a format that gets readers into the story without losing them somewhere in the body copy.
Jim Romeo is a freelance writer based in Virginia. He focuses on business and technology topics.