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"That's a good question"

Updated: Jan 24

Like me, you probably have a YouTube background channel that just plays along as you work along. If I need to concentrate on work, it is ‘Lo-fi Girl’ (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jfKfPfyJRdk) and the smooth beats that help me concentrate as the animated cat swishes its tail and the animated young lady writes her study notes. If I am doing something a little more upbeat, like hammering through a breakdown of data, I probably listen to Hans Zimmer's soundtracks to keep up the energy (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nZV1yPtLerM).


However, if it is just the mechanical organization of the LMS or setting up grouped documents, it’s “Hot Ones.” Guests such as movie stars, musicians, and prominent YouTubers join Sean to eat a sequence of increasingly spicy chicken (or tofu) wings, ending with “The Last Dab” of 2,000,000 Scoville hot sauce. As a biriyani aficionado and lover of all things curried, the concept of a channel related to hearing people suffer gastric displeasure while talking about their most recent project appeals to me. Call me a sadist if you wish, but the interviewer, Sean Evans, is an inspiration in more ways than one (Here we find him interviewing another great interviewer, Ace Roccola: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MfH0oirdHLs).


Asking a well-crafted question requires several intervening variables. Firstly, you must have read and have a background in the discussed area through good preparation and some experience. Next, it helps if you care about the answer to the question; being genuine is not a skill, but the person answering can notice. Finally, rapport cannot be bought in an interview - it is earned. When the interviewer and interviewee have a good vibe, the conversations can go to different, unexplored spaces.


Sean Evans is often complimented for his questions. This may be because of the heat-related problems his interviewees are under; therefore, one side of their brain is kicking the ass of the other and not giving it a chance to consider a good answer. This is an obvious conceit of the show, but being unable to answer due to the physical pain they are both experiencing hides a more profound truth: Sean Evans cares about the answer. Unlike the talk-and-laugh-along of late-night interviewees, Sean is in the battle with the guest and is still working with them to create something new and exciting.


Okay, why am I talking about Sean Evans? In reality, I am talking about ‘the question.’ “So, where are you from?”; “Why did you do this study?”; “What did you find?” - people want the answers but have probably heard them 30 times already. And they possibly also read the paper. Also, the interviewee is not engaged by the question. They can answer it, sure, but it is not drawing from them anything more than could be easily googled - why waste their time with the interview?


At Lost in Citations, our mantra is “A face to the name and a voice to the words.” What can we, as interviewers, do to add the Japanese term ‘plus alpha,’ that frisson of interest caused by a question that is both unexpected and helpful? This is not ‘Gocha Journalism’; we are never looking to cast our interviewees in a negative light. However, a good question can allow even a seasoned academic, presenter, and interviewee to say, “That’s a good question.” Then we are off on an as-yet unexplored vector. This blog is about those types of questions.


After over 120 published interviews, creating the content for this blog was a real deep dive into the transcripts of the conversations we have had. Not only had the compliment about the question occurred, but the context also had to be investigated. What I am saying is this may take some time to compile. However, I’ll update the blog as often as possible with the details of what led to the question and how the interview developed from there.




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