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FS 34: Collecting Stories: Conducting interviews

Research resources for Collecting Stories, a Fall 2020 First Year Seminar taught by Tommi Cahill.

How to interview people

Two USC students recorded this video of interviewing tips in 2011.

Preparing to conduct an interview

If you have identified an expert with insight into your topic, but you cannot find their own statements or a published interview with them, you can try contacting them directly. This could take the form of a written email exchange, or an interactive conversation or interview over the phone, in person, or by web conference.

Thomas Mann devotes a chapter to interviewing sources in his book The Oxford Guide to Library Research. He says that journalists are used to using interviews to get information, but this strategy can work for any researcher when the situation calls for it.

Mann has several recommendations for how to gather information by talking with people:

  • Do background reading to address your research question, thoroughly understand the topic and the person you will be contacting.
  • Develop clear questions and a limited scope for what you are asking of your source.
  • When you contact your source, be honest and upfront about who you are, why you are asking them, what you already know and what you're trying to find out.
  • Respect your source's time and ownership over what they know. Be courteous and thank them in writing after your conversation.
  • Get recommendations for other people you could talk with, to expand your network and balance what you learned from this source.

Background research

For background research on a person or place, check for news articles written by journalists.

If you're researching a person, look up their own statements on a professional or personal website, on social media, or in published interviews.

If you're researching a place, first identify the aspects of that place that interest you. News articles or local government websites may be useful starting points. As you identify other concepts related to that place, try searching for books and articles on those concepts.

Here are a couple of library databases that could be helpful:

Recommended reading

Here are some resources on interviewing and using people as sources during the research process:

Reflection questions

  • What are you most looking forward to about interviewing people for your storytelling project? What are you most anxious about?