Investigative Interview Technique


The investigative interview is part art, part science. There is not one best technique, but there are a number of different interview tactics that can be combined to elicit the needed information. An interview can be one of the most important and useful parts of any investigation, but it must be approached carefully. Proper planning and technique combine to elicit information during an interview.

Interview or interrogation?

  • There is a fine line between an interview and an interrogation, and both may occur during a single session. An interview is generally a non-accusatory conversation intended to gather information. Ask open-ended questions, and allow the interview subject to do most of the talking. Do not challenge the subject if he is caught in a lie, but save a confrontation until the conversation has transitioned into an interrogation.

    An interrogation is a more adversarial conversation and is usually accusatory. Ask pointed questions about the subject's actions, making them direct and less open-ended. An interrogation can be scheduled as a separate meeting, or an initial interview may become an interrogation. Remember that once a conversation has become accusatory, it is very difficult to return to a more conversational tone.

Planning an interview

  • Pre-plan the interview when possible. Know as much as possible about the person to be interviewed and the details of the case. Plan the physical setting of the interview room for the maximum psychological impact, and determine what questioning techniques to use. Outline the topics to be covered and in what order to provide clear-cut objectives for the interview. When technical issues are involved, it can be important to ask questions precisely, and written questions may be helpful. Avoid written questions in most situations, however; it is important not to focus on reading questions but on listening to answers to be sure that they are responsive and to ask follow-up questions where needed.

Introduction and establishing rapport

  • The first phase of an interview involves an introduction and building rapport with the interview subject. Investigators should introduce themselves and identify their office or position. Explain the purpose of the interview to help put the interviewee at ease and encourage cooperation. This also helps build rapport, or a connection, between the interviewer and interviewee. A rapport encourages the interview subject to talk to investigators and also improves the ability to recognize and take advantage of non-verbal communication cues.


  • There are four parts to questioning process: actually asking the question, perceiving the answer, evaluating the answer and recording the response. The easiest parts are asking the question and recording the response; perceiving and evaluating the answer are more difficult. Active listening is one of the most important skills an interviewer can possess. Minimize your speech while reacting positively to the interviewee's responses, either verbally or through body language. One way to acknowledge a response is to paraphrase it, confirming to the subject that their point has been understood. Pay close attention to the subject's body language as well. Most people can control verbal responses much more than nonverbal ones, and patterns of nonverbal response tend to be unconscious.

Summarizing and concluding

  • Summarizing is an important part of an interview because it allows all parties involved the opportunity to be sure that the interviewer has recorded information accurately. Go over your notes, and make sure that you and the interviewee agree on what was said. In closing, thank the interview subject for his cooperation and offer reassurances about any issues of concern that he may have raised during the interview. This is the time to give the subject an opportunity to provide information about matters that may not have been specifically covered, and make sure that he knows how to contact you if he remembers or learns anything further. Additional meetings can also be arranged at this time if necessary.


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