How to Write an Interview Essay or Paper
What Is an Interview Essay?
An essay that explores the different perspectives on a topic by using evidence from interviews with a variety of people.
Overview of the Interview Essay Process
- Write your questions.
- Set up a time to meet with people (you will probably start with at least one in-class interview of another student).
- Ask questions and record the answers.
- Analyze the results.
- Write your essay. Start with the question followed by a summary and analysis of the questions and answers.
Interview Essay vs. Research Paper
Interview essays allow you to use people as your sources rather than books. What is especially helpful in this sort of paper is that you are able to get a first-person viewpoint on a subject, whether this is about a person's life or something in which they are an expert.
Make the Essay Meaningful: These sorts of papers can be especially meaningful if you write them about family members or interview people who do a job or activity you would like to try yourself.
Where You Can Find Interview Essays: These papers are familiar to anyone who reads a newspaper or magazine. While people often interview actors, musicians, or politicians, excellent essays can be written by talking to ordinary people. Essays that record the life history of ordinary people are called oral history.
How Do I Do the Interview?
Pick a Good Question: You will be asking a particular question about a topic of your choice to several different people. Generally, you will want to choose a topic which is arguable — this means a topic in which there are varying opinions.
Ask the Question and Give the Person Time to Answer and Explain: What makes this different from a survey is that you will give the person an opportunity to explain their answer. Often the interview works better if the question asks something most people have an opinion about.
Ask Follow-Up Questions: In trying to get more information about why people think the way they do on the topic, you will ask follow-up questions. You should not ask the same follow-up questions to every person. Instead, you will let your conversation with the person guide you as you develop more questions that are pertinent to the particular conversation.
Interview in Person
If possible, interview in person or over Skype or Facetime. Seeing a person's expression and hearing their tone of voice is important. Plus, you can ask extra questions if you don't understand.
Sample Interview Essay Questions
- What do you do when a homeless person asks you for money?
- What do you personally do to recycle or be "green?"
- What are the most important qualities in a friend?
- Would you add to your family through adoption?
- What does "beauty" (or art, family, democracy, freedom, friend, etc.) mean to you?
- What is the most important thing you've learned in college?
- What are you most passionate about?
- What sort of volunteering have you done in the past?
- What is the most annoying thing a teacher/professor can do?
- What do you most like/dislike about your physical appearance?
- How do you think your place in your family has affected your personality?
- What historical event in your lifetime affected you the most?
- How do you think people change as they age?
- What is the difference between someone who is gifted and someone who works hard?
- Can people change?
- What was the most important thing you learned from your parents?
- Who was the person who influenced you the most growing up?
- Which school subject is most important to learn?
- How can families stay close?
- What is the difference between men and women?
Guideline for Conducting an Interview
Below is a guideline of things you should ask and take note of during the interview. These are sample questions and you may add to them as you try to get the person to give you more information.
- Name: First and last.
- Question: Your main question and any major follow-up questions that occur to you.
- Why do you think so? What are some of your reasons? Are there any other reasons?
- Why do you think people who take the opposite view would do so?
- Do any examples come to your mind to illustrate your point?
- Quotation: Anything you want to quote word for word from them.
How to Analyze Interviews
- Make a list of the reasons given by the people you interviewed and the number of people with each opinion.
- Analyze the opinions by asking the following questions and making notes for yourself:
- Is this a positive or negative reason?
- How does this reason compare to other reasons?
- How important or interesting is this reason?
- What do you think of this reason? Is it valid?
How to Organize Your Interview Notes
Organize the reasons into a logical order. Here are a few possible ways to order them:
- least to most important
- positive first, then negative
- negative, then positive
- ones you disagree with, ones you agree with
- ones which are pretty typical, ones which are unusual
Interview Essay Introduction and Conclusion Ideas
end of story
what you think is most valid
what most people expect
a series of questions
how statistics relate to what your interviews said
what you thought people would say
your reaction to what they said
what you think
how your interviews changed what you thought
You can mix and match some of these introduction and conclusion ideas.
How to Outline Interview Paper
Plan the outline of your interview essay based on the ordering of your reasons.
Introduction/Conclusion: Decide how you will begin and conclude your essay. Your introduction should include the question you asked. Your opening might be suggested by some of the comments from your interviews or you might want to describe a situation which causes your question. For example, in a paper about whether you would give money to a homeless person, you could open with a scenario or story about being approached by a woman in a parking lot and having to decide whether to give money. You might also use description, statistics, and/or questions in your opening (describe homeless people in a big city, give statistics, and end with the question you asked in your interview). You could also begin with a dictionary definition, an appropriate reference to a movie, T.V. show, or song, or a quote.
Body: List the reasons in order. The body of your essay should follow the order of reasons that you put together from your notes. Be sure to quote, paraphrase, and summarize your sources. Also be sure to analyze the connections between reasons and why people might come to those conclusions.
Conclusion: Your response. You will conclude the paper with a paragraph or two explaining which point-of-view, in your opinion, has the most validity, and why. If none of the viewpoints from your interviews coincided with your opinion, you should talk about that.