Interviewing Primary Sources For Your Research Paper Help
Interviewing Primary Sources
Often, the best and most unusual primary sources are people. If you are lucky enough to know or have access to anyone who has direct experience with your topic or has worked in a field connected with your research, then those people are key sources of information for you. How do you find and interview people who may have hectic schedules, and what strategic questions do you ask? This lesson will provide helpful suggestions about this process.
You might not realize how many people you and your friends or relatives may know, or just how many people to whom you have legitimate access via public sources of information. In other words, before you set out to interview anyone, make a preliminary list of five places or contacts that might provide you with people to interview. If your topic involves a person who lived recently, it is helpful to know if there are any surviving relatives who might be willing to talk to you. In addition, there are usually other authors who have already written books on your topic, and they might be willing to speak with you. You may have compiled this list of names and authors from your secondary sources, and if your topic is a current one, think of a list of professionals who work in that field every day. For instance, if you are researching the effects of environmental pollution on the drinking water in your neighborhood, your preliminary interview list might look something like this:
- an official from the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency)
- a local politician or local elected representative
- an informed citizen
- the local Department of Conservation and Water Protection
- an informed scientist or biologist
- a member of a local civic group
Materials for a Formal Interview
Most individuals, no matter how hectic their work schedules are, love to talk about what they know and do best. However, it is important to be prepared with the right equipment and questions before you interview anyone. For any interview, you will need:
- a small, hand-held tape recorder (with an extra set of batteries)
- a blank tape
- a note pad
- two writing utensils
Most people do not object to having a tape recorder record their conversation, but it is always polite to ask beforehand if a tape recorder is acceptable. There are individuals who prefer not to be recorded or feel that the presence of a tape recorder makes them nervous. Always remember to pack extra batteries just in case your tape recorder runs out of power, and always bring along a pad to take notes throughout the interview—even if you have a tape recorder playing. This allows you to have a backup in case there is some malfunction with your tape recorder, and taking notes helps you to pay better attention as the interview is progressing. In addition, always bring along more than one pen or pencil.
Questioning Your Interviewee
Before you proceed with your interview, make a list of five relevant questions so that you begin your interview with a focus. Normally, people enjoy speaking and often wander off the topic. While their information is often interesting, your questions help the interviewee stay focused on the topic at hand. Let's say that you are interviewing the first name on your list—an official from the Environmental Protection Agency. Your five questions should be general enough to cover all the relevant information while also containing specific questions that might apply to your thesis. A list of preliminary questions might look something like this:
- Can you briefly describe your title, job, and your daily responsibilities?
- What role do you and the Environmental Protection Agency play in water conservation (particularly in your local neighborhood)?
- Have you had any direct contact with the problem of water pollution?
- What types of findings and data have you and your agency collected from examining the local water?
- What conclusions or summaries have you made about water conservation, water pollution, or water resources?
Remember that your questions should always serve as a jumping off point—a prompt for individuals to speak about what they know. Do not overwhelm your interviewee with too many questions—usually five questions are all you need to obtain a wealth of information.
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