Conducting An Interview
Are you ever curious about students your age in other schools or parts of the world? What are the latest slang, coolest clothes, favorite music in your class? At a school in a different parish? Among students in another country? How could you find out? Did you know that all popular music has its roots in traditional music? Did your parents and grandparents dance to hit tunes and wear the latest styles or follow the more traditional music? What else are you curious about? What did older people do at your age instead of watching TV or playing video games? Where did they go to have fun? What were their hopes and dreams when they were young? What are their important memories? You may also be curious about other things, such as how traditions, music, stories, or crafts pass from person to person.
One of the best ways to find answers to questions such as these is to ask a person who knows the answers. This is called an interview. By asking the right questions and recording the answers, you can find out surprising things about your interviewee, your subject, and your community to these and many more questions. This essay summarizes the interview process to make your explorations easier.
BEFORE THE INTERVIEW
WHO AND WHAT: Before you interview someone in your family, school, or community, you should decide on your subject matter then find out who might know about this subject. Your teacher may have already chosen and asked you to interview someone in particular. If you are required to locate an interviewee, start by asking around. Most of the time, someone you know can lead you to a good person to interview. Think about other age groups, folk groups, neighborhoods, and senior centers or groups. You will probably find that one interviewee leads to another.
BACKGROUND RESEARCH: You do not need to know everything about a subject before you talk to an interviewee, but you should have some basic knowledge. For example, if you are going to talk to a Mardi Gras queen, you should know something about her carnival krewe. You can do this research at your library, online, and by talking to other people.
WHEN AND WHERE: Before the interview, you need to make an appointment with the person you'll be talking to. This means you'll either have to telephone, email, or write a letter. So you will need to research how to contact your interviewee if you don't already know how. Don't just show up and expect someone to sit down with you. It is simply good manners to give people advance notice. Plus, they'll want to know ahead of time what you will be talking about so that they can think about what they want to say, but you don't know if you haven't told them what topics you want to explore. You'll want to schedule the meeting in a quiet place where there will be no background noise. The person's house is often a good place, particularly around a table where you can put out all your equipment if you are tape recording or video taping your interview.
SUPPLIES: You also need to make a checklist of things that you'll need to carry with you on the interview. You'll probably need the following:
It's really good to organize these supplies in special kits and folders so that you don't forget anything.
PRACTICE: It's always really exciting to get ready for an interview! You might be a little bit nervous about talking into the tape recorder yourself, so it's always a good idea to practice beforehand with another person—someone who will not make you feel nervous. Practice using the tape recorder and camera, and then listen to the tape to make sure you're speaking clearly. Are you repeating yourself? Does it seem to you that you weren't listening closely? If so, you'll want to work on these things.
Before you meet with the interviewee, you'll want to prepare a form to be filled in. This form will have space for all the person's biographical information, and it will also allow you to fill in information about the topic. Use the Folklife Interview Form or make your own.
WHAT TO SAY: Before you meet with a person, make a list of questions so that you don't forget what you want to say. Sometimes people are reluctant to talk into a tape recorder. Think about what you'll say to make them feel more comfortable. Maybe you want to think about a story you can tell that they might enjoy hearing. Maybe you have a newspaper article or photograph to spark conversation and put the interviewee at ease.
OPEN-ENDED QUESTIONS: Avoid questions that have a simple "yes" or "no" answer. Think of questions for which you don't know the answer. Try not to expect a certain answer from them. For example, if you are interviewing someone about their name, what questions would you want to ask? You probably want to find out:
It's really good to organize these supplies in a special folder so that you don't forget anything.
JOURNAL NOTES: Before you interview someone, write in your Journal about things, which may affect the interview. If you're interviewing someone from a culture other than your own, how might that affect it? Are you worried that you might say something offensive, without knowing it? Are you concerned that you won't understand what the person is saying? Are you an insider or an outsider? Will your own background affect things? What are you most interested in finding out? It is a good idea to think about these things and write down the answers to them, so you won't be surprised. If something like that happens, you will have a statement ready. You can make notes about ways to make the interview go more smoothly.
DURING THE INTERVIEW
ARRIVAL AND SET UP. When you're getting dressed, you'll want to look nice and think about being your "most polite" self. After all, you're recording your own behavior as well as others. You'll want to show up on time, with all of your materials organized. Ask politely to set up your tape recorder in a place that is quiet. The tape recorder should be placed so that you can operate it easily.
THE TAPE RECORDER OR VIDEO RECORDER. Test the tape recorder before you get started with the real interview. Press the record button, say something unimportant into it, such as "testing, testing, testing." Then ask the interviewee to talk into it. Perhaps you can ask them to state their name. Then rewind the tape to listen to it. Make sure that you can hear yourself and your interviewee. You don't want to go through all this trouble and then discover that your tape recorder didn't work! Also, keep the tape running throughout the entire interview, unless the interviewee requests that it be turned off for certain parts.
RECORD THE BIOGRAPHICAL DATA. Take out your Journal and your questions, and start by talking into the tape recorder-after you have tested it to see if it is working. Remember, you're not having an ordinary conversation, so you can make that clear by saying into the tape recorder:
"Today is March 26, 2005, and I am ________. I am in my grandfather's home to interview him. We are in Lake Charles, Louisiana, sitting at the kitchen table."
After the interviewee has said and spelled his or her name, ask for the address, telephone number, email, birthday, and place of birth. These are important things to know. Plus, asking the ordinary questions at the beginning helps as an ice-breaker. Finally, ask your interviewee to read the Oral Release Form into the tape recorder.
CONDUCT THE INTERVIEW. Begin asking the questions you have prepared. It is important to remain flexible. Ask open-ended questions so that the interviewee can talk freely—even about things you haven't planned on. Share your own story, when it seems relevant. But don't hog the interview! You are there to do more listening than talking. Keep your questions in front of you, but don't be afraid to change them up a bit at the interview.
TAKE NOTES DURING INTERVIEW. Write down names, places, dates, spellings of unusual words, and notes to yourself. Also, write down key words and ideas that he or she mentions. But do not get so involved in writing that the person you're talking to feels like you're not listening. The most important thing you must do is to listen closely to your interviewee and appreciate what he or she has to say.
COMPLETE YOUR FORMS. It is wrong to interview people without telling them what you're doing. Wouldn't you feel tricked if that happened to you? That's why a good interviewer explains fully what the project is about, how the interview will be used, and gets the interviewee to sign a permission form. Use the Louisiana Voices Written Release Form.
AFTER THE INTERVIEW
WRITE FOLLOW-UP NOTES IN JOURNAL. Write about your impressions, the successes, the problems, the questions you still need to ask, the ideas you got. You should also write about how the things you assumed you might hear, before you left, played out. Did things go as you expected? Or were you surprised? Ask yourself about your interview:
LABEL YOUR TAPES OR DISKS. Write the interviewee's name, the date, and the subject on the side of the case as soon as you can. You want to be sure you can find the correct tape when it's time to transcribe it.
TRANSCRIBE. In this section you will transcribe, or write down, what the interviewee has said. Transcribe the most important parts of the interview WORD FOR WORD, including "uhs," false starts, etc. In your final product, you may need to edit out some of the words to make it easier to understand and read, but your transcription should be a faithful record. You can use a pencil or word processor on a computer. You'll most likely have to rewind the tape or video recorder and play small sections over many times in order to get an accurate transcription.
ANALYZE YOUR FINDINGS. Read over your notes and transcription and think about all that was said. What does it all mean? Why is it important? Try to come up with the important points from the interview and what you have learned, and write them down in your journal. You will be able to use these points when you present your findings later on.
WRITE A THANK-YOU NOTE. It is good manners to hand write a thank-you note to your interviewee. Say how much you appreciate the time he or she took to talk to you and how much you enjoyed the conversation.
You will probably be amazed at how much information you have gathered and also at how enjoyable it was to interview someone who knows a lot about the subject you are researching. In later lessons, you will learn how to present your transcribed interview in several interesting formats.