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            Conducting the Information Interview

Application 5: Conducting the Interview

an unprepared interviewee

Stage 5 in the information interview is conducting the interview.

Below is an information interview case study. Examine the opening, body, and closing. How effectively do the participants establish a productive interview climate? How well does the researcher provide orientation in the introduction? Is the body of the interview appropriately structured? How well does the interviewer listen? Ask probes? How effective is the closing?

As you read the interview, write down your ideas for improving how the interview was conducted. Check you ideas by clicking on the "Suggestions" buttons included throughout the case.

Conducting the Interview: A Case of What NOT to Do

Researcher: Hi! I'm here for the interview about public transit.

County Transit Director of Public Relations: Hello, I'm Chris Orange. I remember we spoke last week. What is your name?

Researcher: Yeah, hi Chris. I'm Pat Blue.

Director: I prefer Dr. Orange. I have a Ph.D. in environmental studies.

Researcher: Oh, cool. So where can we sit and get started?

Director: My assistant is working in my office. Let's use the conference room. It should be quiet in there.

Researcher: Okay, that sounds fine.

[The two get settled in their chairs on either side of the conference room table.]

Researcher: This is a nice place you have here. Public transit must be a profitable business.

Director: Public transit is not a business. We're here to serve the citizens of this county as well as visitors. Most of the funds for this building were donated by local businesses that are interested in increasing their employees' use of public transportation, particularly to get to work.

Researcher: Wow! I had no idea.

Director: It's a matter of public record. We had quite a grand opening about six months ago. I'm surprised you didn't read about it when you were doing your background research for this interview.

Researcher: Well, I figured you'd tell me everything I needed to know.

Director: [silence]

Researcher: So first. Why public transit?

Director: When you called last week you said you were interested in the future of public transit. Is that what you want me to talk about?

Researcher: Oh, ah, yeah, that would be great.

Director: There is no doubt that public transit will play a greater role in this county in the next 10 years. There is simply not enough room on the roads for the vehicles that drive on them now. Gridlock will only increase. The new wave in public transit is integrated networks that provide flexibility for commuters, visitors, and shoppers.

Researcher: Do you take public transit?

Director: Yes, I take the light rail to work.

Researcher: What about people's right to drive wherever and whenever they want?

Director: I don't recall that as part of the Bill of Rights in the U.S. Constitution.

Researcher: What I mean is, public transit doesn't allow people to have the freedom to go wherever they want to.

Director: Automobiles don't allow that either. And in the future, gridlock will be so commonplace that people will be prevented from zipping from one place to the next. The days of the empty, open freeway are already for the most part a thing of the past. However, the integrated public transit networks of the future will give people a great deal of flexibility so they can reach their destinations in a timely fashion.

Researcher: That is a great quote! Would you repeat it so I can write it down?

Director: Didn't you bring a tape recorder?

Researcher: I had meant to, but I forgot.

Director: Why don't I just give you some pamphlets on public transit? I have one that includes information on public transit possibilities for the future.

Researcher: That would be great. Let me get some background information on you. Tell me about your education.

Director: As I already stated, I have a Ph.D. in environmental studies.

Researcher: What school?

Director: University of Iowa.

Researcher: What are your hobbies.

Director: I like to go to the symphony, play violin, and travel in Latin America.

Researcher: So have you ever been to Guatemala?

Director: Yes, several times.

Researcher: Okay, one last question. What is the most popular form of public transit?

Director: In this county, busses have the highest ridership of all public transit. However, riders are more complimentary of the light rail and train.

Researcher: Well, I think that's it. Thanks for your time.

Director: Stop by my office ask my assistant for those pamphlets.

Researcher: Oh, right. I'd forgotten about them.

Director: It was nice meeting you. Good luck with you project.

Researcher: Yeah, see you around.

Careful planning is essential for a productive information interview. The interviewer must establish rapport and provide orientation in the interview opening. By including a preview statement in the opening, the interviewer reduces ambiguity for the interviewee and makes is easier for the interviewee to focus on question content rather than puzzling over the interview's structure. Generally, the information interviewer should use a funnel question sequence, beginning with more open, general questions and moving to more specific, closed questions. The interviewer should close the interview by summarizing the main points covered in the interview, and leaving the interviewee with feelings of goodwill.

When conducting the interview, demonstrate flexibility, using the interview guide as a road map, but allowing for detours and changes. Show sensitivity to interviewees' cultural backgrounds and experiences in phrasing questions and responding to interviewees' answers. Active listening, competent notetaking, and appropriate secondary questions will not only facilitate a productive information interview, but also enhance the next stage in the information interview, Preparing the Report.

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