How to Conduct an Interview for a Paper

Bad celebrity interviews can be great fun to watch.

Celebrities throw tantrums, walk out, or simply blank and have nothing interesting to say.

Celebrity interviews can also go bad through no fault of the celebrities themselves. Sometimes it’s the interviewers who ask inappropriate questions or ask questions that can be only termed “stupid.”

Take, for example, the time when a Red Carpet reporter at the SAG Awards asked Mayim Bialik how many people actually think that just because she stars in The Big Bang Theory that she can solve calculus equations at the drop of a hat.

FYI: Mayim Bialik isn’t only an actress. She’s also a neuroscientist who can most certainly solve calculus equations (as she so politely informed the interviewer). Clearly, the reporter should have done a little research about Bialik before he asked such a stupid question.

Don’t be that interviewer. Here’s how to conduct an interview for a paper (and how to avoid asking stupid questions).

How to Conduct an Interview for a Paper

how to conduct an interview

If you want to conduct a successful interview (and I’m sure you do), you need to be prepared. It’s kind of like being a stage actor. You can’t just glance at your lines once and say, “I’ll wing it.” The end result won’t be pretty.

Going into an interview without a plan won’t be pretty, either, so here’s what you need to do.

Talk to the Right People

If you’ve ever called a company with a question and been transferred at least three different times before you actually talk to an agent who can answer your question, you understand the importance of talking to the right person.

The same is true with conducting an interview. If you’re enrolled in a government class and your assignment is to learn about local government, interviewing a college intern isn’t your best option.

While interns certainly have some knowledge of local government, they won’t have the same knowledge as a local representative or county commissioner.

How do you actually get to the right people?

A little research can go a long way. Go online. Use social media. Make some phone calls. Decide who will be the best person to try to interview. If you’re absolutely stumped for ideas, ask your prof. He or she will be able to point you in the right direction.

Schedule an Interview

Remember all those times your parents told you to use your manners? This would be an excellent time to use them.

Remember when your profs told you that you need to use a formal, academic, and authoritative voice? This would also be an excellent time to use it.

When you’re contacting someone for an interview, you’re contacting the person as a professional, not as a student who wants to talk to someone.

In other words, don’t send an email and open with, “Hey, I was wondering if I could interview you for my class?”

While you still might get the interview by starting your email like this, it certainly isn’t professional. It also certainly doesn’t tell the potential interviewee anything about you, the class, or why you want to conduct the interview.

Here’s a better way to contact the person you wish to interview. (You might use this type of opening for an email, phone call, or in-person conversation.)

My name is Emma Ortez, and I’m a first-year student at ABC University, majoring in business. I am currently completing a research project about local entrepreneurs and would like to speak with you about your flower shop and the strategies you implement to sustain a successful business.

If you would be interested in speaking with me for 20–30 minutes about your business model, please contact me at (555) 555-5555 or email me at [email protected].

Within a few lines, Emma has told the potential interviewee about herself, the goals of the interview, and how long the interview might take.

Remember, people are busy. Even though you may be fascinated with their work and want to speak with them for hours on end, it may not be feasible to expect an hour-long interview.

Schedule a brief interview. If your interviewee wants to talk with you further, you can arrange additional meetings.

A note about email addresses: If at all possible, use your school email address when contacting people. This reassures them that you are, in fact, affiliated with a school. It also sounds a heckuva lot more professional than partyboy99@******.com.

Prepare for the Interview

how to conduct an interview

Before you set out to do anything, it’s important to know what you’re trying to achieve.

You can’t, for instance, take a stack of boards and a handful of nails and simply start nailing things together. You need to know what you’re building before you actually start building.

Similarly, you can’t schedule an interview without knowing why you’re conducting the interview.

Establish a goal for the interview

When you’re planning an interview, you need to know what you want to learn.

For instance, you might want to learn about the interviewee’s childhood, her relationships, her education, her religious beliefs, her education, or her professional background.

On the other hand, maybe none of these points are important, and your true goal is to learn about how she became involved with saving penguins.

Once you’ve determined your goal, you can plan the entire interview around it. To begin, do some research.

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Learn more about the person you’re interviewing

In many cases, you can do a little online research about the person you’re interviewing. By knowing more about the person, you can ask more in-depth and relevant questions (and avoid asking stupid questions).

For instance, if you’re interviewing the CEO, her bio may be listed on the website. Thus, there’s no reason to ask questions about where she went to college or when she became CEO of the company.

Instead, you might ask how it felt to be the first female CEO of a corporation that has been in business since 1934.

Prepare appropriate questions

Don’t go into an interview blind and assume that you’ll figure it out as you go.

If you do, there will be a very real chance that you’ll have wasted everyone’s time and will leave the interview with no useful information. That’s definitely not how to conduct an interview that gets the responses you need.

Not sure how to prepare interview questions? Here are a few tips.

how to conduct an interview

Decide how many questions to ask

If you’ve scheduled a two-hour interview, you can’t exactly show up with three questions (unless, of course, you’re interviewing someone who loves nothing more than the sound of her own voice).

If you’re conducting a standard 30-minute interview, create 10–15 questions that you think will be useful. (Create more questions than you think you might need. There will be times when a person answers one of your planned questions without you asking.)

Ask a mix of open-ended and closed questions

  • Open-ended questions allow interviewees to answer questions in a variety of ways and will elicit longer answers. (For example, “Tell me about your trip to Antarctica to save the emperor penguins.”)
  • Closed questions require short, specific answers. (For example, “How many trips have you made to Antarctica?”)

Be prepared to ask follow-up questions

A successful interview resembles more of a conversation than an interrogation, so be prepared to chat. If you find something particularly interesting or want to learn more about a topic, don’t be afraid to ask another question.

This strategy is not only useful for when you want to learn more about a subject but also can be vital to help redirect the interviewee.

(You know, just in case you ask, “What do you do to pass the time in Antarctica when you can’t be outside?” and the interviewee gets sidetracked talking about how her kids get bored when it’s raining outside.)

Conduct the Interview

how to conduct an interview

You’ve spent a ton of time planning and learning how to conduct an interview, so don’t waste it by not being prepared when you actually conduct the interview.

Follow the tips below to make sure your interview is awesome.

Dress to impress

Remember, you’re a professional conducting an interview, not a student who is required to interview someone. Dress like you mean business.

Choose your clothing based on the type of interview you’re conducting. If you’re interviewing someone on the beach, in the forest, or in a barnyard, heels or a suit might not be your best option. But if you’re interviewing a CEO, professional attire is a definite must.

Be prepared to take notes

If you talk with someone for 30 minutes or more, there’s no way you’ll remember everything, so be prepared to take notes on the conversation. Most people go old-school and take notes with a pen and paper.

In some instances, it may, however, be appropriate to take notes on a tablet or other device. You might even ask for the interviewee’s permission to tape the conversation. (That way you’ll be sure not to miss anything.)


If you’re conducting an interview, you have a few opportunities to ask questions, but in many cases, the majority of your time will be spent listening.

Take your role seriously. Don’t let your mind wander, and don’t simply stare off into space if your interviewee has already answered the core question.

Sure, there may be times when the person you’re interviewing rambles a bit about a topic, but this is a chance for you to steer her back on track, not tune out.

If you’re not listening to the person you’re interviewing, you’re not only being disrespectful but also wasting everyone’s time. (That means your own too!)

Be courteous

I’ve already mentioned this, but it’s worth repeating. Be nice. You’re asking someone to take time out of her day to speak with you, so be respectful by showing up on time, being courteous, and thanking her for the interview.

(It’s also a smart idea to leave your contact information with your interviewee in case she’d like to speak with you again.)

And that’s how to conduct an interview for a paper. But don’t leave just yet. It’s just as important to know what to do once the interview is complete.

After the Interview

how to conduct an interview

After the interview, jot down any other important ideas that you didn’t have time to write down during the interview.

When you get home, review your notes again (and listen to the interview if you recorded it). Take even more notes to refresh your memory and begin to organize your ideas.

Next, draft a brief outline of what you want to include in your paper. Finally, get to work writing!

Not sure what to do with all that information? Read How to Write an Interesting Interview Essay to learn more about how to turn your notes into a finished paper.

Need a few examples to see how it’s done? Check out these example essays from our database:

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