Posted in Research Skills

The Personal Interview, Part III: KISS It

Keep It Simple, Student!

Much of what makes a good interview will come naturally and involves skills you already have (whether you know it or not!) Here are a few things to keep in mind during the interview session:


How you listen during an interview directly affects the quality of the experience for both you and your source. Listening attentively and offering your undivided attention is proper etiquette and makes for a more comfortable environment. Use nonverbal (examples: nodding your head, reacting appropriately to humor, & exhibiting good posture) and verbal (short questions, small words of agreement) cues to guide the conversation and show that you are interested and are following the responses closely.


If a response inspires a new question don’t be afraid to ask it-you often find your best and most effective questions this way.


If you did not understand a response politely ask your source to repeat it or explain a particular point. Keep in mind that repeatedly asking for clarification can give the impression (rightly or wrongly)  that you are unprepared or inattentive.


As mentioned above, be prepared to let the interview take you through some unexpected territory but do not let conversation linger for too long off-topic. If necessary, use your questions to gently and politely steer the interview back to the original subject.

Record (x2)

Even if you are recording the interview take thorough notes. It will provide you with a written framework of the audio (or saved text) from the interview and serve as a backup in case of technological difficulties.

Posted in Research Skills

The Personal Interview, Part I: Begin at the Source

The personal interview is an exceptional research source that is often overlooked due to the easy access of online databases, online journals, and other e-resources. Throughout the next two weeks we will highlight personal interviews, telling you all you need to know to prepare for, conduct, and incorporate personal interviews into your next paper or project.

What is a personal interview?

For our purposes, a personal interview is an interview between a researcher and a credible source. The interview can take place face-to-face, over the phone, or over the internet using email or a chat platform. During the process the interviewer uses a series of questions and follow-up questions to explore the source’s opinions on and knowledge of a particular topic.

Why use a personal interview?

Personal interviews are valid and versatile academic resources that can be used for almost any project, paper, or presentation. In addition to providing valuable information, expert sources often offer current and unique perspectives in a given area. For example, an expert on black bears may have spent the past summer in the Great Smokies studying their behavior. Information from an interview can also be used to support evidence found in other sources or provide valuable information in an area where there is little or no available research.

What makes a source credible?

A credible source is a recognized expert in his or her field of interest and ideally has years of experience to draw from. When searching for a source consider the following questions:

  • Is the source’s area of expertise relevant to my topic?
  • Does this individual have any experience instructing others in their area? If so, how much?
  • Has the source published any papers, conducted any workshops, or otherwise given any presentations on your topic?
  • Is this individual regarded as an expert by others in his or her field of study?
  • Do they belong to or hold positions of authority in any professional societies?

Remember, your project is only as strong as the information you present so choose your sources accordingly.

How does one locate a credible source?

Students in a particular program of study may already be aware of accessible experts that would make good candidates for a personal interview. If not, you can begin your list of possible sources buy searching the internet or viewing online faculty profiles at a leading institution. In addition, many online databases contain scholarly or peer-reviewed papers and can be mined for published works on your topic. Look for authors who have written or contributed to multiple papers. Databases frequently provide a list of other scholarly works that reference or cite a given paper. If a given author has been cited a number times by other scholarly works it is often a sign that he or she is a leader in the field. Your professor or another faculty member (who might make good sources themselves)  might be able to recommend someone to you as well.