Fig Tree Logo

Writer's Guidelines

The goals in an interview are:

  1. 1) learn who the person is
  2. 2) understand a person’s context
  3. 3) report with accuracy
  4. 4) find an angle that opens understanding
Approaches to an interview in multi-faith, multicultural communications:
  1. Be genuinely curious to discover rather than assuming. Ask to be sure that you understand what a person is saying about his or her faith, issues, action or life.
  2. Explore with the person to understand beyond the words. What the person means may differ from your perception. Assume you speak a different language.
  3. Inquire what the person means by phrases of faith, politics, economics to understand nuances: “What do you mean?”
  4. Along with the who? what? where? when? news questions are feature-producing questions: how? and why? Let answers be the basis to deepen understanding of the person, program and issues.
  5. How does a thought, idea or action relate to interviewee’s faith and values? Maybe it does. Maybe it doesn’t. So ask.
  6. “Gotcha” questions reduce an interviewee’s trust. Open-ended questions elicit more information.
To learn about the person’s context, ask:
  1. Ask about the person’s life story, faith background, program, emerging values.
  2. Ask about the person’s faith community—past and present—and how it relates to what he or she is doing.
  3. Ask about the person’s cultural background to discover how his or her life intersects with history, current issues
To be accurate
  • Take ample notes, record or videotape. We want quotes—more than a summary of what you remember.
  • Review notes carefully.
  • Check for accuracy and consistency.
  • Verify facts and details with interviewee and other sources.
  • Send a final draft to interviewee to review for accuracy.
  • To decide on an angle or approach:

    When we assign an article or approve a writer’s idea, the editor offers questions to help find the angle for the story—note them and ask them. However, that pre-interview idea should not limit exploring another angle that arises in the interview.

    Remember in conducting an interview that The Fig Tree seeks to help achieve peace, justice, respect, compassion, caring action through understanding – moving us beyond surface conflicts, polarities, differences, questions, issues.

    Two tips sharpen story:

    1. Step aside as the writer to let the story come through without editorializing. While articles may be feature length, they are that length to build understanding, not give opinion. Stir readers to think without offering your conclusions.
    2. Using nouns and verbs instead of adjectives and adverbs helps the writer be specific. Rather than describing an experience as “beautiful,” “wonderful” or “exciting”—paint the noun and verb word picture or story that tells what made it exciting.

    Stories share faith in action

    The goals of articles are to:

    1. inform, inspire, involve – encourage, empower, engage
    2. connect people, share stories, explore issues, offer reflection, invite dialogue foster understanding, network people, pool resources, give hope
    3. step aside as the writer – be invisible – tell the story of the person, program, effort just-the-facts features as oral history, not columns or editorials
    Lead catches readers’ interest
    1. After an interview, review and transcribe notes, thinking about the story shared. The lead often emerges as the writer sees the whole interview. Frequently, it’s at the end, after the interviewee began to trust.
    2. To include all six questions in the first paragraph may work, but may make it cluttered and complex. Keep the story simple and come to the point. A feature is not a fiction, building up suspense. The lead reveals the article in a nutshell: It summarizes the WWWWWH questions. It gives the conclusion.
    3. The lead invites readers to journey along to discover the basis for the conclusion. It may use an example that draws interest—but not a quote—and When someone tells his or her story, explore what the person or group has learned from life, faith/values, encounters and issues. Our role is not to sell the person or organization, but to report what the person/group does, thinks and believes to build understanding.


    1. A feature is more than an inverted pyramid, because it needs to draw readers to explore beneath the surface, behind conflicts, beyond polarities to hold the reader through to the conclusion, where there should also be insight.
    2. Avoid jargon, slang, clichés or insider words of religion. Be an interpreter to readers in other churches, faith groups, and the nonprofit community.
    3. Use short sentences with clear, concise, vivid language.
    4. Vary sentence structure and avoid beginning paragraphs with the same word. Keep paragraphs short—one to two sentences.

    Editing process

    1. Editors write, read, edit, rewrite, edit rewrites
    2. As gatekeepers, editors edit for length, clarity, style and accuracy. If you understand our style and approach, you limit the changes to cutting rather than rewriting.
    3. Our readers are busy, seek hope

    4. Our readers are busy people, overloaded with information and publications.
    5. They don’t need one more thing to read, but do need information that summarizes and makes sense of what is available to them in other sources.
    6. Need hope and affirmation for what they do, coming through the nourishment
      of knowing that others are acting and risking, too.
    Copyright@ The Fig Tree, 2021