Preparation: The more structure and
preparation you demonstrate to the person you are interviewing, the
better the interview will be.
The following are guidelines toward developing good interviews
Develop a statement of interest, including What you
find interesting about the subject What you will be able to
discover through the interview that you could not otherwise
Research thoroughly whatever public knowledge you can find on the person, the project, the company, and/or
events. The interview begins before you meet the person!
Prioritize a set of objectives and questions Going
in prepared makes you look capable and competent
Discover what is necessary to fit into his/her
environment/space; ask advice of others if necessary.
Dress neatly and appropriately for the situation. Your
objective is to make the interview subject feel comfortable,
and willing to share what is important to them. Ask
yourself: "How would I want to be treated if the roles were
Develop a checklist of what "tools" are needed in the
interview: notebook, pens, recording device, etc.
Arrange for the interview "on location" if possible and/or
appropriate It will add to its sense of place, voice, and
Before the interview:
Arrive early Avoid traffic, parking, getting
lost problems Silently observe where your subject works if
possible the office environment, working conditions,
co-workers and staff, how he/she is dressed, etc. Don't be
"nosey" but be alert! Don't interfere with on-going
If you tape record the interview Test your recorder, its tape and batteries before you start
Get permission, in writing or on the tape: sample form (.pdf)
While recording, continue to take notes, especially key points
to be safe
Introductions (a "few" minutes)
Introduce yourself and your project
Ask for the person's name, title, business card, photograph or digital image, company logo, etc. as appropriate
Try to make the person you interview (and yourself!) comfortable. Some casual conversation is
appropriate as ice-breaker: express your appreciation for their
time and willingness. Compliment their office, directions, your
respect for their achievements, etc.
If this is your first interview, share that you are
developing your interviewing technique
If you know the person from before, keep in mind
that your project may require that you be impartial or neutral to
that person's experience. Make no assumptions!
Verify a few known selected facts, sequences, etc.
(I read your biography and saw your degrees are in....
(The newspaper reported that your neighborhood has succeeded
in... (In your company's annual report, I read that the most
successful product line is... (What prepared you for your
success in... (How did you become interested in....) (I
read that you started out as a chemist, and developed yourself
to become.... (What books or people most influenced your....
(I see that your position is responsible for.... (Who were
your important role models or teachers for.... (What was the
Treat the interview like a conversation with structure!
Begin with your list of questions Follow chance openings
Keep in mind your objectives
Actively listen to understand and report Affirm that you understand what they are saying Do not agree or disagree with the person Do not debate what
they have to say
While taking notes, don't hesitate to ask for
clarifications or better understanding:
"Could you repeat that, please? I want to make sure I get all
of that down." "I am not sure I followed that, do you mean
Know when to shut up Listen carefully so that you
know when to let your source pause to collect his or her thoughts.
Don't feel the need to fill every empty space with conversation
Don't be afraid to say you don't understand, or need
more explanation. Use your own words to repeat back; ask:
"So what you're saying is ..." or "So let me get this
Be willing at all times to be surprised; follow chance
openings Don't think you know what the story is about.
Don't let your own feelings or bias shape the questions you ask
Follow the order and priority of your questions
be aware of time constraints and your purpose: look
for a convenient jumping off point to engage the subject
Develop more depth/complexity as the interview develops
given the comfort level and opportunity
Avoid yes/no questions Ask some questions
that can be only answered with a story This reinforces your interest in not only getting "facts" but
also the role your subject has played. It lends voice to the
narrative, and can personalize the story for your readers.
Don't accuse (Why DID you ....?"), rather ask if the
person would like to respond to accusations,
or tell their side of a story, or...
Develop scenes and themes during the interview
(It sounds like .... is very important to you, what/how/...
has it affected... (What was most significant in.... (What
difficulties or challenges were most important... (How did
you react to.... (How do you see your role in changing....
(At what point did you know you wanted to.... How did you meet
this challenge or change? (What do you see as your
current/next challenge... (In the ...., I read that you said
".........", can you provide more detail? (How do you keep
track of .... (Some people say that ...., but you seem to
take another path.
Can you explain the difference?)
Transition to conclusion
Keep aware of the time, and all the topics you need to
Ask if there are additional points that have not been
Summarize a few important points to verify if you
Ask for references for additional information,
sources for data, or advice for further development
Review your timeline toward completing your project
Volunteer to provide a copy of your completed
report, article, or a summary of the presentation, including
any reactions to the interviewee
Express sincere appreciation
Writing an interview essay:
Immediately after leaving the interview:
Organize your notes
Label and date notes and tapes for easy reference
Transcribe the audio recording, or important sequences and
Set your notes aside for a day or two to get a fresh
Re-read the assignment! What
specifically is the focus of the assignment?
Review the entire interview's notes and recording Note from three to five major themes, and compare
these with the assignment's objectives (You are now
re-structuring the interview from its "narrative" sequence
to one of themes)
For each significant theme, find an appropriate
quote and cut and paste these into their categories
After completing the substance of the interview,
develop an introduction (remember your initial
observations?) and conclusion.
Follow guidelines on proofreading, verifying
with and citing your source(s), and spell checking
If appropriate, with advice from your teacher,
send a copy to your interviewed subject with appreciation
Types of interviews:
Celebrity and newsmaker
Understanding who stands behind success or notoriety
Professional profiles Understanding professions, careers, companies, institutions
Project profiles Developing a project history from inspiration (to conclusion)
Learning about past events and experiences
Employment Developing your interviewing skills will
also help you when you are, in turn, interviewed
Be brief and friendly, yet
businesslike. Don't walk up to people with a "sorry to bother you" attitude.
Develop a professional manner and act the part:
Identify yourself and explain what you're doing.
Request permission to ask a few questions
Ask for the person's name and where they're from: Verify
names -- especially spellings
Be brief and look for follow-up possibilities
Save tougher questions for near the end of the interview
Thank the person -- remember that anyone who consents to an
interview is doing you a favor, whether they are getting
anything out of it or not
If the story is being published, let the person know
where and what your name is again
No matter how rude someone is to you, be polite. Be
Remind the person you've approached why you're there and, if
you can, repeat your question. If the situation doesn't improve,
walk away. And don't take it personally.
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