Interviewing is a great technique to have in your research toolbox. First you need to prepare, and to decide what you want to achieve. The information you need; the best person to interview; an expert quote; or perhaps an eyewitness account.
Once you’ve understood your aim, you can formulate relevant questions. For a live interview, you may need several sessions; but getting a quick expert statement can be done via telephone or through e-mails.
Plan your questions, jot down anything that comes to mind. There are open and closed questions. Open ones begin with “what”, “how” or “why” allowing for lengthy answers. Closed questions, the answers answered with ‘yes’ or ‘no’, give less scope for explanation. How are you going to record the interview? If you’re planning on a recorder, video camera etc., make sure to know how it works and that it’s fully charged.
Arrange the meeting so that the place and time are convenient for your interviewee. If it’s an unknown person, always meet in a public place to ensure your safety.
Explain why you want the interview and how you’re planning to use the information. Ask for their consent. If someone wants to be anonymous, respect their wishes. If you want to record, ask for permission, and invite the interviewee to ask any questions they may have. Spend some time building a rapport, to help him / her relax.
Your main task is to listen and allow the interviewee to do the talking. If you don’t understand something, ask to clarify. Keep the interview conversational. At the end, express your thanks and encourage them to contact you later if they remember something else relevant.
Send a thank-you note to the interviewee. Analyse your notes – did you get everything you need? Identify any facts that need verification. Becoming a good interviewer requires practice and can be improved, like any skill. The more you practise, the better you’ll become.
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