The interview process consists of three main parts. Part one is preparation; part two is the interview itself; part three is writing it up. Within each of these parts there are various important steps that will help to make your interview a success.

Part one: preparation

  1. Know the purpose of your interview. Know why you are using the interview and know why you are interviewing this particular person.
  2. If your interview subject has published anything (a book, article, film, song, other interviews, etc.), familiarize yourself with these publications.
  3. If your interview is part of a series of interviews done as part of a larger research project, make sure that you have permission from the Ethics Review Board to do this qualitative research with human subjects. All universities and colleges have a board to which such projects must be reported.
  4. If your interview subject is a person with particular knowledge or experience, prepare yourself by doing some research about that (type of) knowledge and experience.
  5. Prepare a list of questions:
    1. Avoid questions that can only be answered with yes, no, or maybe. (Nevertheless, you may want and need to have this type of question for some types of research project interviews.)
    2. Avoid ‘leading’ questions. That is, exclude questions that appear to have their answer included in the question already.
    3. Keep your questions relatively short. You don’t want to introduce your question with a fifteen-minute monologue.
    4. Focus your questions on the things you want to learn (more) about. That is, use your pre-work research to develop your questions
  6. Make sure that neither your interview purpose nor questions have any possible harmful implications for your interview subject.
  7. If you plan to tape the interview, make sure your equipment works and that you have at least one set of spare batteries with you.

Part two: interviewing your subject

  1. Disclose the purpose of your interview to your subject before asking permission for the interview. Consider confidentiality. Be respectful of your interview subject and his or her privacy.
  2. Be prepared to sign a confidentiality agreement.
  3. Ask permission to tape the interview before taping it. Take notes, even if and when you tape. If your tape recorder fails, you’ll be glad you have a written record.
  4. Taking notes, do not focus only on what is said but also on how it is said, what body language may convey, and in what setting the interview takes place.
  5. Try to allow for a natural flow of the interview. It is more likely to put the interviewee at ease if they sense they have at least partial control over the direction of the interview. Use your list of questions to see if the general areas you wanted to cover in the interview are covered, but don’t go through them mechanically.
  6. Try to make the experience of interviewing and being interviewed as comfortable as possible for both parties.
  7. Allow the interview subject to determine the length of the interview.

Part three: writing the interview

  1. Post interview, immediately jot down some further notes on things you consider important to remember.
  2. Review your notes carefully and decide what you would like to highlight as the main point(s) of the interview (this step is predetermined for interviews in a research project with multiple interviewees.)
  3. Given the purpose of the interview and the interview itself (other than research interviews), determine what style and tone will work best for your written version.
  4. Based on the point(s) you want to highlight, make an outline of the elements you want to include in your write up. Refer to particular interview sections on your notes or tape.
  5. Include additional setting, atmospheric, explanatory notes.
  6. Compose your introduction.
  7. Write your body paragraphs making liberal use of quotations from the tape or the notes and follow the outline you have created.
  8. Compose your conclusion.
  9. Re-read, correct, edit.
  10. If your interview subject has asked to see the end result prior to submission, send the paper to him or her once you are satisfied you have a final draft. Wait for submission approval or for commentary and requests for changes. Make all changes requested. Repeat this until your interview subject gives your approval to submit the paper.
  11. Submit the paper.

© Adien Dubbleboer
Coordinator, ENGL 255