The aim of an interview is that through using people rather than books or articles, the writer can obtain a first-person viewpoint on a subject. The interview can be related to experiences in their life or may be related to a field in which they are an expert. Clearly these types of essays require a different form of planning and research. Typically, this includes the following steps:
- Determine the subject on which the person is to be interviewed.
- Identify the target interviewees, contact them, and ask for consent.
- Develop your interview questions which could include some or all of the following:
- Personal details (name, occupation, or credentials where appropriate, age if relevant, location if relevant)
- Primary question: The main focus of the work and some short main topic questions
- Notes on exploring the respondent’s answers – i.e., reminder questions for the writer such as “why do you feel that way?”, “Can you explain that in more detail?”, “Why do you think some people disagree with you?”
- Analyse the information / answers given by your interviewee.
Once you have followed these stages, you can draft / outline your interview essay in a more standard format:
- Break up the responses into key themes or points that you will make.
- Identify any other sources that you will use in your essay.
- Give an approximate word count to each section.
Note that using closed questions requiring “yes/no” answers are effective for gathering factual information, however, more detailed responses can be achieved with open-ended questions starting, “how”, “why”, “talk to me about…” and similar. Using these questions also encourages you to ask more for more detail that will expand your essay and source information.
Analysing your interviews
When analysing your interview(s), the approach will depend on the focus of your interview. For example, if you have undertaken 2/3 interviews for considering an experience, you may wish to follow the narrative route. However, if you have undertaken only one interview on a specific topic in which your interviewee is an expert, you may look at content analysis. In both cases, however you should, as you look through the interview notes or transcriptions if you have these and ask yourself:
- What reasons/ points/ perspectives did the interviewees give in support or opposition to the main topic
- Are they positive or negative?
- How does their responses compare to existing views?
- How interesting or important are the responses given?
- What is your own perspective of the views/reasons/responses given?
Once you have written down your initial analysis in order to structure your interview essay in a logical format you should then list the points/reasons given in the following way:
- least to most important
- positive first, then negative
- negative, then positive
- those you disagree with, those you agree with
- those which are pretty typical, those which are unusual.
Writing your Interview Essay
Your introduction should commence with an indication of the key question asked. This can either be in the form of a comment from the interviewee or a description of the situation that led to the development of your main question.
In addition, you should clearly state the type of interview undertaken (survey, narrative etc.) so that the reader has a context for your work. The introduction should then provide an overview of the responses given, along with your own perspectives and thoughts on these (your thesis statement) before introducing the body of the essay through linking. For example, “having stated X, the work will now provide a more detailed overview of some of the key comments and their implications in relation to XX”.
The body text should follow the order of your points indicated above. Use only one paragraph per point structured by indicating the point made, why you agree/disagree and any other relevant subpoints made by the interviewee in regard to the first points.
The paragraph should conclude with a link to the next theme which leads to the next paragraph and demonstrates cohesion of thought and logical flow of reporting the interview analysis. Note: you can include quotations from the interview, but do not rely on these, they should only be used to reinforce a point of view, and where possible avoid the inclusion of slang or swearing unless it is vital to the point you are making.
Your conclusion should bring together all the perspectives given by the interviewee. It is, in effect, a synopsis of the work with your own conclusions included. It is useful to refer back to the main question and your thesis statement to indicate how the interviewee answered (or not) your question and what this means for your future views or action in regard to the topic. A strong conclusion is as vital as a strong introduction and should not introduce any new information but should be a precis of the overall essay.
Key Phrases for an Interview Essay
The main subject under discussion was…”
“The interviewee was very clear when discussing…”
“The interviewee was somewhat vague when asked about…”
“This raised the question of…”
“When asked about x, the interviewee stated/asserted/claimed/maintained/declared, believed/thought/.”
“From the perspectives given by the interviewee it seems that…”