Cooperative learning series
Interviewing for class projects
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
- 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 reversed?"
- 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 story
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 operations
- 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!
- Offer a consent formsample form (.pdf)
- Introductory questions
- Be complimentary to set the tone
- Demonstrate your interest and preparation
- 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 consequence of....)
- 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 that...."
- 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 straight..."
- 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
- Transitions: 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 cover
- Ask if there are additional points that have not been addressed
- Summarize a few important points to verify if you understand correctly
- 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 quotes
- Set your notes aside for a day or two to get a fresh perspective
- 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
- Follow the structure of any writing assignment
Refer to our guides on Writing Assignments
- 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 inviting feedback.
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) and consequences
- Oral history
Learning about past events and experiences
Developing your interviewing skills will also help you when you are,
in turn, interviewed
- Person-on-the-street interviews
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 businesslike.
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.
Classroom learning series
Preparing for the classroom | Class "prep"/paying attention | This Guide and on-the-street interviews are based with permission upon Leslie Rubinkowski's tips presented as a visiting faculty member during the "News Reporting and Writing Fellowship for College Graduates" at The Poynter Institute, Summer 2002.
Classroom discussions | Taking notes in lectures | Influencing teachers |
Interviewing for class projects | Consent form for interviews |
Problem based learning | Using guided notes
Interviews can be fascinating stuff. Watching an interview with your favorite celebrity can keep you on the edge of your seat because you want to know everything about what makes that person tick.
On the opposite side of the spectrum are the dull interviews that are about as fascinating as watching paint dry.
What makes some interviews so awesome, while others are so awful?
Sometimes the person being interviewed has nothing interesting to say. Sometimes the interviewer asks all the wrong questions. And sometimes, it’s how the interview is presented to the audience.
When writing an interview essay, no matter how scintillating your subject is, if you don’t present the interview in just the right light, your paper will fall into the “as exciting as watching paint dry” category.
Let’s make your paper more appealing than drying paint, and get to work writing an interesting interview essay.
How to Write an Interesting Interview Essay
Writing is a lot like painting. Whether you’re painting a masterpiece or your bedroom, you can’t just throw paint at the surface and hope it looks right (unless of course you’re Jackson Pollock).
If you’re writing an essay, you can’t just type words and hope they sound right, either. Both take careful planning (and a lot of practice).
When writing an interview essay that you hope will be your masterpiece, you need to keep the following points in mind.
Know your purpose
Okay, maybe you don’t need to know your life’s purpose in order to write an interview essay, but you do need to know your purpose for writing the paper.
Sure, you’re writing the paper because it’s an assignment, and you need to write it in order to pass your class. But you also need to check the assignment guidelines to learn the paper’s purpose.
In most cases, you’ll be writing an interview essay to illustrate a dominant impression of the person you’re interviewing. You could write to show your readers how kind your neighbor is or how funny your dad is, or you might highlight a person’s accomplishments or strengths.
You can write the paper from a number of different angles, but as long as readers get to know the person and understand the dominant impression, you’ve accomplished your goal.
Here’s how to do that.
Plan and conduct the interview
A successful interview is essential to a successful interview essay.
If you’ve ever had a job interview, you know that your prospective employer has already done some research about you and will be conducting the interview with a set of prepared questions. You should follow this lead.
Before the interview:
- Learn what you can about the person you’re interviewing. If you’re interviewing your sister or your roommate, maybe there’s not much to research. But if you’re interviewing a professional or local celebrity, you’ll probably be able to learn more about him or her through a basic online search.
- Prepare a set of interview questions. Interview questions should be clear and succinct, with the goal of learning specific information.
You might ask closed questions that require a “yes” or “no” answer or that gather factual information, such as when your interviewee was born or what type of degree he or she holds.
But you should also ask open questions that allow the respondent to discuss information in greater detail. These types of questions might ask things that give insight into how a person feels about something or how he or she overcame a specific struggle.
During the interview:
- Take notes. You won’t remember everything the person says, so take careful notes. If the interviewee gives you permission, you might record your discussion.
- Be respectful.
After the interview:
- Look through your notes and find examples and quotes that will help you establish the dominant impression and help readers get to know the person.
- As you identify the key information that will go into your paper, outline your ideas. Unless your prof has said otherwise, your outline should follow a standard essay format, with an introduction, body paragraphs, and conclusion.
Draft your essay
An interview essay generally contains the standard elements of an essay (introduction, body, and conclusion), but make sure your paper achieves its goal by including the best possible information.
- Include a catchy opening line. Consider using a quote or anecdote about the person that will not only interest your readers but will also illustrate your dominant impression and help readers learn more about the person you’ve interviewed.
- Include a specific thesis statement. In an interview essay, the thesis statement should identify the focus of your paper. Remember, if the dominant impression of your paper is the kindness of your neighbor, the thesis statement should reflect this.
- Help the readers get to know the person. Include additional examples, quotes, and stories about the person to help show readers who the person is. For example, if you’re writing about your kind neighbor, you might tell the story of how he volunteered at the local homeless shelter, rescued stray animals, and helped a coworker in need.
- Wrap up the essay. Bring the essay to closure by restating key ideas and leaving readers with a strong impression of the person.
Before You Label It a Masterpiece
After you’ve drafted your paper, don’t submit it to your prof until you’ve done the following:
- Take a look at your notes again. Review your notes once more to make sure you didn’t forget an important story and to make sure you’ve accurately quoted your subject.
- Review and revise your paper. Read through your paper once or twice looking for sections that need reworking. If you need a little help with the revision process, read How to Revise an Essay and Make It Better Than Ever.
- Read a few example essays.Check out a few examples to see how other writers have tackled their interview essays. If you’d like to see a couple annotated examples, read 2 Interview Papers That Ask All the Right Questions.
- Let the experts help.Kibin editors can help you add just the right (key)strokes to your paper to make it a masterpiece.
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