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Religion in Chicago

How to Interview

General Etiquette

  • Call and make an appointment with the person for a face to face interview.
  • During the initial call explain who you are, why you want the interview and what  will be done with the information you get.
  • The person might want to know what questions you'll be asking, so have your questions ready in advance.
  • Be prepared both with your questions and a paper & pen to make notes, just in case the person wants to do a telephone interview right then and there.
  • If you're thinking of recording the interview, be sure you first clear it with the person you're interviewing in advance.
  • Be on time and dressed appropriately. Remember you want the person to take you seriously and not feel they are wasting their time.
  • If the person sets a time limit to the interview, keep to it by being prepared with your questions and monitoring the time.
  • Be polite and neutral. Avoid having an accusatory or antagonistic tone.
  • Before leaving the interview, be sure to scan your notes. If anything is unclear, ask the person right then and there.
  • Be sure to thank the person for his/her time both initially and at the end of the interview..

Interview Questions

Most interviews seek to achieve one or more of the following goals:

  1. Obtain the interviewee's knowledge about the topic
  2. Obtain the interviewee's opinion and/or feelings about the topic
  3. Feature the interviewee as the subject

It's important that you know exactly why you are conducting an interview and which goal(s) you are aiming for. Stay focused on questions and techniques which will achieve them.

Do your homework. You will be expected to have a basic knowledge of your subject. Do not roll up to an interview with a band and ask them how many albums they have released — you should know this already. If you show your ignorance, you lose credibility and risk being ridiculed. At the very least, the subject is less likely to open up to you.

Have a list of questions. It seems obvious but some people don't think of it. While you should be prepared to improvise and adapt, it makes sense to have a firm list of questions which need to be asked.

Of course many interviewees will ask for a list of questions before hand, or you might decide to provide one to help them prepare. Whether or not this is a good idea depends on the situation. For example, if you will be asking technical questions which might need a researched answer, then it helps to give the subject some warning. On the other hand, if you are looking for spontaneous answers then it's best to wait until the interview.

Try to avoid being pinned down to a preset list of questions as this could inhibit the interview. However, if you do agree to such a list before the interview, stick to it.

Ask the subject if there are any particular questions they would like you to ask.

Back-cut questions may be shot at the end of a video interview. Make sure you ask the back-cut questions with the same wording as the interview — even varying the wording slightly can sometimes make the edit unworkable. You might want to make notes of any unscripted questions as the interview progresses, so you remember to include them in the back-cuts.

Listen. A common mistake is to be thinking about the next question while the subject is answering the previous one, to the point that the interviewer misses some important information. This can lead to all sorts of embarrassing outcomes.

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

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.