Interview Basics

Interviewing people is one of the tools that folklorists use to study culture.  In addition to having curiosity, a good interviewer needs to be a good listener.

Asking questions that produce interesting answers isn’t always easy.  Lots of questions may be answered with just a simple “yes” or “no” and don’t tend to lead to detailed responses.  Try to develop open-ended questions that encourage someone to talk.  Here are some more tips to consider.

1. Before you ask a question of someone else, ask yourself what information you’re really looking for and how you’ll use the information.

  • Are you looking for ways someone’s life is similar to or different from your own?
  • Do you want to find out how someone performs or creates something?
  • Do you have a topic such as someone’s childhood, hobbies, or occupation?

2. Good interviewers do some investigating in preparation for their interviews.

  • Take time to study information about the interviewee and brainstorm a list of questions you’d like to ask.
  • Review your questions and practice them by interviewing a friend.  If you don’t get the kind of answer you’d expect, revise the questions so that interviewee can better understand.

3. Perhaps the most important interviewing skill is to be polite as you ask questions and listen to answers.

  • Be sure to thank the person.  Send a thank-you note and, if possible, a copy of your project or presentation.
  • Make sure to use a release form and that you have permission to use the interview.