Interview essays should familiarize readers with a certain subject and present someone’s opinion. Interviews also provide insights into the interviewee’s personality, allowing readers to analyze their responses in a more general context. Interview essays are a common type of writing assignments for students. Such essays allow students to train many useful skills, especially if these students are going to become journalists or writers. There are a few different formats of interview essays, however, they all also share many common features. A good essay makes readers feel as if they were talking to the interviewee themselves. Experts from Writers-House prepared this step-by-step guide to help you write a great interview essay.
First, you should determine the purpose of your paper. The purpose of an essay determines the way you conduct an interview and write the essay itself.
If your essay is focused on facts, you should find a person who is perfectly familiar with the subject matter and has the necessary experience. For example, you must interview scientists when writing about science, or talk to historians when writing about some historical events. If your essay focuses on opinions, you should look for a person who expresses their opinions clearly, providing solid arguments. You may also interview more than one or two people, depending on whether you want to provide a narrow or a broad perspective.
Before you get to interviewing itself, research your subject and jot down questions. We suggest that you look for information related to the background of your subject and familiarize yourself with works written by your subject, as well as works written about this person. Make sure to check previous interviews of your subject so that you can understand what questions are appropriate and interesting. If you want to clarify a particular fact, ask questions that can be answered as “yes” or “no.” Such questions as “why,” “how,” or “tell me more about it” will help you get more background information that you couldn’t find when researching. Write down a list of questions and make sure to have more questions than you are actually going to ask so that you can make adjustments to the flow of the interview. Sort your questions by priority and highlight the most important ones.
The next step is arranging the interview. You should contact your subject or their representatives in order to arrange a place and time. You should also make sure to get permission to record your conversation. Your interviewee should know who you are and what is the purpose of the interview. We suggest that you pick some quiet place where nobody and nothing will distract you. It may be a library or a restaurant, as well as any other location. Your subject should express consent to use their comments in your paper. Obviously, the law also requires you to get permission if you want to record the interview in either audio or video format. We also recommend that you have a backup person who you can interview in case something goes wrong and your subject cannot make it.
Once you’ve prepared, conduct the interview and take notes as the person answers your questions. If you’ve got permission, using a recording device is a great choice, as you’ll be able to focus on the conversation with no need to write notes. Be respectful and patient. Give your subject some time to think about his or her responses. A few deep responses are better than many meaningless general phrases. As soon as the interview ends, write down your first impressions — such notes will come in handy when you start writing the essay. Don’t forget to thank the person you’re talking to.
1. The first thing you should figure out is the format of your essay. If your interview essay is an assignment, your instructor will likely provide you with the necessary guidelines. Ask your instructor what questions are necessary, whether or not you can use paraphrasing or long quotes, and what is the main focus of the interview. You may focus on the interview itself or use it in a more general context. Here are the most common interview formats:
- Conversational. This is an informal format which allows you to use the first or second person and to address your readers directly. Such a format is often used by magazines but it can also be chosen for a class assignment.
- Narrative. In this case, you paraphrase the interview, sometimes providing direct quotes to emphasize something important. This format is great if you have to focus on the context, and it’s the most common format for class assignments.
- Question-and-answer. In this case, your essay will look like a long dialog, where responses follow questions. You should only use direct quotes, however, you can also add some additional information in parentheses. We suggest that you use this format only when interviewing one person or a group of closely related people.
2. The next step is writing an outline. Your outline directly depends on the chosen format, however, a strong introduction is always crucial. Read your notes or listen to your records and determine what things are the most important and what you should highlight when writing. Your introduction may start with an anecdote or important background information and lead to a thesis statement. The conclusion of your essay should summarize the conversation. Most often, school essays have a five-paragraph format, and this format may be a good choice for interview essays, as well.
3. Write a thesis statement. For example, if the purpose of your paper is to present the person to your readers, the thesis statement may be a brief summary of their background and accomplishments. However, if the goal is to illustrate a broader topic, the thesis statement should summarize your subject’s opinion on this issue. Make sure the entire essay refers back to the thesis statement.
4. The body of the essay should support the thesis statement and provide a review, following the rules of the chosen format. Sometimes, you may realize that you have many repetitive answers, even if your questions are great. In this case, you will have to get rid of the repetitive answers and unnecessary details while also making sure that you stay focused and don’t miss something important. Having the same interview material, you can use it to present individual experiences by using quotes and paraphrases, to write a transcription in the question-and-answer format, or to provide a larger context by adding explanations and comments.
5. Now you have to proofread your draft to make sure it’s clear and well-written. You can proofread your essay yourself but we suggest that you find somebody else who can spot mistakes that you haven’t noticed. Take a look at your original notes or play your records once again to make sure your essay reflects the interview correctly. You may also ask your interviewee to read it.
6. You may also need to document your sources. Sometimes, you may not need to cite the whole interview but we suggest that you check your tutor’s requirements to know it for sure. You should cite any sources that you’ve used when describing the background or context, using the required citation format. Keep in mind that you should always use quotation marks with direct quotes but never use them when paraphrasing.