Conducting a Proper Interview
Interview for a Good Story
It has been my pleasure to be involved in the Mysterious and Miraculous book project, particularly because the profit is being used for the K9s for Wounded Warriors. I must admit that it has also been very enjoyable to write these stories.
During this process, I learned of a story from my mother that I had never heard before. So, I have written some true stories that involve my family, which are surprising, and now I have written two stories that involved interviewing other people. There is skill involved in doing a proper interview to achieve the best results.
Dressing appropriately, maintaining appropriate non-verbal skills and listening carefully are all appropriate factors that are effective.
To conduct a proper interview there are some basic things you need to know about the individual, including their proper name, where they live and when the incident being discussed occurred. Also, how they felt about the incident is very important, particularly if it happened within their family.
Certainly, before conducting the individual, the interviewee must be aware that the story will be published, and I asked permission to use their real names. If they don’t want to use their real name that is fine as the story can still be written with their permission.
My First Interview
The first interview I conducted was face to face with a friend. I had a legal pad size tablet to write down all the details because I know how easy it is to get home and forget some of the small things that are pertinent to the story.
Since I knew this first person quite well I didn’t ask as many initial personal questions. I took careful notes as I listened to her tell the story. I wanted her to tell the whole story first before I asked a lot of questions, so I didn’t interrupt her train of thought. I watched her carefully to observe her expressions, and chose not to rush her.
When she had finished telling me this very unusual story I started asking some questions, waiting for a definite pause before asking my next question. The questions included:
- What year did this occur?
- Tell me about the house you lived in at that time.
- Did this affect anyone else in your family?
- I ask her how she felt when this incident happened and how she feels about it now.
Many people do interviews using tape recorders, but I felt more comfortable with my friend just using a yellow tablet and pen.
My Telephone Interview
My second interview was with a relative of a friend, and this is someone I had not met before. This lady, named Marilyn, does not live close to me, so a phone interview was a necessity. This time I started a conversation to learn a little bit about this person before I actually started the interview. I wanted her to be comfortable and open with me, so the conversation worked really well. As we talked we found we had some things in common. We talked, laughed and forged a bit of a friendship. I again used my yellow tablet and took copious notes as this lady talked.
Marilyn knew why I was calling, as my friend asked permission ahead of time. It would be a mistake to call someone for a personal story without setting up some type of appointment beforehand.
She was quite excited about telling her story, which was also very fascinating. She was very open with me, which made the interview process much easier.
As this lady has had some very unique experiences, I did ask some initial questions. I asked her when these events first occurred, and she recounted her age and all the details. Then, she continued to tell me several things that happened to her over her lifetime. Again, I was a good listener and just let her talk. When she finished I had several questions, and I had left some blank spaces in my notes in areas where I knew I would need more details.
Following the Interviews
I started at the top of my notes and asked questions to clarify some statements, and she willingly filled in all the details. This interview was actually fun because as she told the stories she laughed frequently, as did I.
After I had completed these interviews, it was very easy to write stories about their experiences. I had listened carefully and I had taken good notes, and that makes all the difference. I find that many people really enjoy telling others personal stories if that other person is not opinionated.
Giving the interviewee some encouragement goes a long way. I found the interviewees actually control the interview during their storytelling, and I believe I probably got more details by listening carefully. There is plenty of time at the end to clarify statements are asked questions.
I thanked them both very much for their time and for sharing the stories.