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Primary Sources

Background Research for an Interview


  • Do as much research as possible in advance on the person and/or topic you are working on.
  • Sources might include the library, public records, the internet and people you know who can provide background information.
  • Prepare your questions in advance in writing and bring them to the interview. Refer to them but don't show them to the interviewee, because it creates too formal an atmosphere.
  • Ask other questions as they might arise, based on what the interviewee says or something new that might come to you on the spur of the moment.
  • Bring appropriate materials with you :
    • two pencils (or pens) and paper.
    • A stenographer's notebook is usually easier to handle than a large pad but use whatever is comfortable.
    • Bring a digital voice recorder if you can, but be sure to get the permission to use it from the person you are interviewing.
    • You also should take notes, because it will help in the reconstruction phase, and, yes, tape recorders fail occasionally.

Adapted from Stringer Media at MIT. "How to Conduct an Interview." Retrieved September 8, 2009.


  • Local Newspaper sources - many of the sources listed on previous pages of this guide will help you with background research. Try searching for a specific business or business-owner, elected official, landmark or tourist attraction, neighborhood events - like Festivals or block parties, etc. 
  • Chicago Area Entertainment Sources - events occuring in local neighborhoods may be highlighted - often these will include contact information for event organizers or neighborhood associations. 
  • Websites for Neighborhood Associations, Community Groups, Historical Societies, etc. - Try search engines like Google and Yahoo, as well as sites like Yelp to locate more information.

What to Ask - How to Ask

Open Ended Questions

The ability to ask open-ended questions isa key component in interviewing for journalism, television, radio and other media. 

An open-ended question is designed to encourage a full, meaningful answer using the subject's own knowledge and/or feelings. It is the opposite of a closed-ended question, which encourages a short or single-word answer. Open-ended questions also tend to be more objective and less leading than closed-ended questions (see next page).

Open-ended questions typically begin with words such as "Why" and "How", or phrases such as "Tell me about...". Often they are not technically a question, but a statement which implicitly asks for a response.


Closed-Ended Question   Open-Ended Question
Do you get on well with your alderman?   Tell me about your relationship with your alderman.
Who will you vote for this election?   What do you think about the two candidates in this election?
When did you open your business?   Tell me how your business got started.

Adapted from"Open-ended Questions". Retrieved September 8, 2009.

After the Interview

Post-Interview Reconstruction

As soon as it's practical after the interview, find a quiet place to review your handwritten notes.

  • In your haste while taking notes, you may have written abbreviations for words that won't mean anything to you a day or two later.
  • Or some of your scribbling may need deciphering, and, again, it is more likely you'll be better able to understand the scribbles soon after the interview.
  • Underline or put stars alongside quotes that seemed most compelling. One star for a good quote, two stars for a very good one, etc. It will speed the process when you get to the writing stage. 
  • One other thing to look for in your notes: the quote you wrote down might not make a lot of sense, unless you remember what specific question it was responding to.
  • In short, fill in whatever gaps exist in your notes that will help you better understand them when writing.

Adapted from Stringer Media at MIT. "How to Conduct an Interview." Retrieved September 8, 2009.