A. Choose a person to interview. Select a person knowledgeable about the topic to interview, for example a person who works with an interest group related to a particular issue or who has worked in a field related to the issue at hand. The contacts provided at the end of Issues & Controversies On File articles, as well as people mentioned in the articles, can be a good starting place when searching for a person to interview.
B. Set up an appointment. It is important to call in advance to set up a time for an interview, whether you plan to conduct the interview in person or over the telephone. Identify yourself and briefly describe the purpose of the interview, for instance, whether it is for a publication or a class assignment.
A. Thoroughly research your topic. Do as much research as possible both on the topic of your interview and on the person you will be interviewing. Knowledge of the field and the person will help you in forming your questions and will also be helpful in case the person being interviewed raises any issues that your questions did not cover.
B. Prepare questions. Prepare your questions in advance so you can refer to them during the interview. You can include other questions as they arise during the interview, but it is helpful to have a list to start from. [More on what to ask and how to phrase your questions will follow in the next section.]
C. Have a tape recorder or two pens or pencils and a pad of paper ready for the interview. Before using the tape recorder, always ask the interviewee first if you may record the conversation. Even if you are using a tape recorder, it is good to take notes in case the machine fails.
III. The Interview & Questions
A. Types of things to ask about in an interview
- The person's experience in the field and other relevant background experience.
- Facts about the topic.
- The person's opinions or feelings on the topic.
B. Tips on phrasing the questions
- Make the questions open-ended (as opposed to yes or no questions, or questions in which the interviewer provides a list of answers from which to choose), so the respondents can choose how best to answer.
- Keep questions neutral, so you do not influence their answers or lead them to answer a question in a particular way.
- Avoid implying any judgment in your questions; try not to put the interviewees on the defensive, where they feel they have to justify their positions.
- Word the questions clearly.
- Keep questions short, and ask only one question at a time.
C. Order of questions
- Begin the interview with general conversation; casual conversation will break the ice and help both of you to relax.
- When you begin the actual interview, start off by asking them fact-based questions (for example, how long the person has been involved in the field; or ask about the details of a piece of legislation that he or she supports). This will help put the person being interviewed at ease before you start asking questions about their opinions on issues that could be controversial.
- Upon concluding the interview, you can ask the person if there is anything else that he or she would like to address. You can also invite the person to call you if he or she thinks of anything else to add to the interview; be sure that you provide your contact information.
D. General interview tips
- Provide transitions between major topics, such as "I would now like to turn your attention to..."
- Try not to interrupt as a person is answering a question. But if interviewees do start to ramble on, you may try to redirect them back to the question or move on to the next question.
- Respect the person's opinions, even if you disagree with what he or she is saying. The idea of the interview is not to debate, but to learn the person's viewpoint and get more information on a topic.
IV. Transcribing the Interview
A. Review your notes immediately after the interview, while it is still fresh in your mind. You may need to clarify any writing that is illegible or fill in gaps where you could not write quickly enough.
B. If, in transcribing your interview, you cannot make out something that you have written or what the interviewee has said on the tape, contact the person to confirm what was said; do not go with a "best guess."
C. If you are editing the interview--cutting out parts of it to make it shorter--or just using some of the quotes in an article, be careful to keep what the person has said in context. Presenting quotes out of context could change the thrust of what the person was trying to say.