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Conducting the Information Interview

Module 2: Researching the topic

2 people talking about research

Stage 2: Researching the topic.

In this stage, the interviewer conducts background research before the interview. This allows you to develop relevant and thoughtful questions. Having a solid base of knowledge about the topic will also enhance your credibility with interviewees.

Where you search for information depends on the purpose of the interview and the end product or final report. For example, if you were interviewing hospital nurses about working conditions, you would want to have prior information about the organizations in which the nurses work as well as information about nursing in general. Much organizational information is public, as with annual reports and public relations materials. Many organizations have websites. To learn more about nursing, you might check your university library for books and journal articles on the nursing profession.

Written sources of information include reference books (Encyclopaedia Britannica), magazines and pamphlets, atlases and gazetteers (National Geographic Atlas of the World), academic journals (Information Research), newspapers (the Seattle Times), U.S. government publications (for which there are indexes, such as the American Statistical Index), dictionaries (Oxford English Dictionary) subject abstracts (Communication Abstracts) and indexes (Social Science Index).

The internet provides an important resource for the information interviewer. You can find basic—and often in-depth information—on an amazing range of topics. Below are some places to start in your online search. (More information in "Online Research"). And although you're probably most comfortable with your favorite search engine, such as Google and Yahoo, each search engine yields different results. So you'll want to try several in your search. HINT: Click on the "help" link when you go to a search engine's site to find out the best methods for locating the information you want.

Metasearch Engines  
Mamma. Try the Power Search feature. Turbo10. Useful for the deep web—sites not accessible using traditional search engines.
Vivisimo. Clusters results by topics. Dogpile. One of the most popular metasearch engines.
Search Engines  
AlltheWeb. Sophisticated advance search options to tailor searches. Ask. Question-based searching.
Wisenut. WiseGuide and WiseSearch help you search more efficiently. Hotbot. Allows you to choose the search engine you want to use.
AltaVista. Search in a variety of languages. LookSmart. Includes over 5 million searchable articles.
Specialized Search Engines  
Daypop. Search news sites and blogs that are updated daily. Deep Web Search Engines. Article on and suggestions for deep web search engines.
Scirus. Science information. SearchEdu. Searched education, military, government, dictionary, and encyclopedia sites.
MedHunt. For medical-related text and images.  
Web Directories  
InfoGrid. Lists traditional topic areas plus four "grids": info, personal, lifestyle, and kids. Web's Best Directory. Includes websites and articles.
Librarians' Index to the Internet. Directory built by librarians. Open Directory Project. An international base of volunteers edits this directory.
Yahoo! Directory. One of the first directories. JoeAnt. Browse by region of the world or subject.

In determining the usefulness of information from any source, apply your critical thinking skills and ask these questions:

  • Who is the author?

  • What is the source? (Who sponsors the website?)

  • What is the author trying to communicate?

  • What are the author's purposes?

  • What are the author's conclusions?

  • What evidence has the author provided to support these conclusions?

  • Is this evidence of sufficient quality and quantity?

  • Is there any information the author seems to have omitted?

  • What questions is the author trying to answer?

  • What problems is the author trying to solve?

  • What are the author's underlying assumptions?

  • Are those assumptions sound?

  • What inferences has the author drawn?

  • Are those inferences valid?

Researching the topic is essential in preparing for the information interview. By researching your topic, you can determine what information is available only from interviewees, identify who would be appropriate to interview, develop challenging and provocative questions, and later assess the information you gather in your interviews.

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