How to Write an Interview Essay. An interview essay is designed to give the reader planning and drafting an essay general impression of the interview subject and to present his or her thoughts on a select group of topics. It also offers the opportunity to develop deeper insights by analyzing the interviewee’s responses within a larger context. Interview essays are a common school assignment, and provide useful skills for those interested in journalism, or just being good writers in general.
There are several formats that fit into the category, but a good interview essay of whatever type can make the reader feel as though he or she were asking the questions. Determine the purpose of your essay. This will have an impact on whom you interview, how you will conduct the interview, and how you will write the subsequent essay. If your essay is to be a factual piece, you’ll want to interview someone who has expertise in the subject matter you’ll be addressing.
If your paper is about a science topic, you’ll want to interview a scientist in that field. If your paper is about a period of history, you’ll want to interview either a historian or someone who’s lived through that period of history. If you plan to make your essay an opinion piece, you’ll likely want to interview someone who has a strong opinion about the topic covered in your essay. Ideally, you want someone who can express opinions articulately, and who also has credentials in the area you plan to write about. If your piece will have a narrow perspective, you’ll need to interview only one or two people. If your piece will present a general consensus, you’ll need to interview more people, probably with varying expertise and credentials.
You can use this information to determine the best questions to ask in the interview. When available, read works about and works written by your subject, both in print and online. At the same time, research the topic associated with your subject. The more you know about both, the more intelligent questions you can ask. Look for previous interviews your subject has given, as well. These will give you an idea of what questions the person has been asked before, so you can decide on appropriate subjects for your own questions, including questions that no one else has asked. Draw up a list of the questions you are prepared to ask.
Have more questions ready than you will likely use, so that you can make adjustments as the interview takes place. For instance, your subject may begin focusing on what you thought was a side topic, but turns out to be the key part of your interview. Rank your questions in order of importance to make sure you ask your best ones, or list them all in the order you’d ask them and color-code the most important ones. You’ll also need permission to record the interview with either audio or video equipment, or to take photographs.
Be sure the person you contact knows who you are and why you want to interview him or her. Choose a quiet place with few distractions for your interview site. A library, restaurant, or campus location if you’re doing this for a college writing class would be suitable. You may want to get the interviewee’s consent to use his or her comments in your essay in writing, as well as permission to record those comments during the interview. By law, if you are recording an interview conducted over the phone, you must obtain written permission. It’s helpful to have a backup interviewee in case the person you plan to interview can’t make it. Be on time at the place you’ve agreed to meet for the interview.
Even if you are using a recording device, take notes during the interview, as they can help you look for specific points in the recording to incorporate into the essay. Be patient and respectful as you ask your questions and wait for responses. Give the interviewee time to reflect, and you will likely be rewarded with more insightful answers. A few deeper responses are usually better than many superficial ones. Immediately after the interview, write down your thoughts and impressions about the interview and interviewee. They may help you shape the essay. Always end the interview by thanking the person.