Interviewing

The following is a brief outline of effective techniques for interviewing.

  1. Do your research. Obviously, the interview is a place for you to learn something from your interviewee. But to make the most of your limited time together, you shouldn't ask about information that can be readily gathered from other sources—you're seeking new information. Even before you formulate your interview questions, research the background and history of the topic you are investigating, and develop some sense of the context that surrounds it. This will help you to ask more productive questions, and it will later help to build your ethos in the eyes of your interviewee.
  2. Build and maintain an effective ethos. Remember that as an interviewer, you yourself are a rhetor: your purpose is to persuade your audience (the interviewee) to volunteer useful and interesting information. Naturally, you should be personable and cordial to your interviewee, and be respectful of the fact that they are taking time out of their day to talk to you. But the most effective interviewers go beyond those basic pleasantries to build a sense of trust and connectedness (read: an effective ethos) between themselves and their interviewee. Good interviewers also show their authority and commitment to their interviewee by doing their research in advance.
  3. Phrase your questions in a productive way. Can the questions you've come up with be answered with a "yes" or a "no," or do they lead open-endedly into further discussion? Do your questions provide a path for the interviewee to expound on a topic, such as asking them to spell out a process or recount an event?
  4. Reflexively prompt your interviewee. If you are performing the interview synchronously (such as in person, over the phone, or by instant messaging), be sure to respond reflexively and dynamically to the conversation. Listen carefully to your interviewee's responses, and be proactive about changing the direction of the interview or prompting your interviewee for more information.