For this assignment, you must identify one person to interview. That person can either occupy a similar class position as you or a very different class position—it is up to you. You will conduct a 30-60 minute interview with that person that is audio-recorded. This assignment has five purposes: (1) to give you a chance to develop and practice your interviewing skills, (2) to experience one of the major forms of research that many social scientists, journalists and other media producers use, (3) to give you a real life sense of what it’s like to live in the class position of the person you are interviewing, {four is optional, depending on whether you plan to assign the documentary project as well} (4) to give you the raw materials with which to develop a radio/audio documentary with your classmates and (5) to contribute stories to the ongoing digital archive of the 1500 Stories project. This assignment will be graded on a {you choose} point scale, with each step worth a certain number of points toward that total. Overall, this assignment is worth {you specify}% of your total grade in {your class}.

Step 1: Developing a list of questions.

While in-depth interviewers seldom memorize or restate interview questions verbatim, they do find it helpful to have a sense of what they will want to ask their respondents. So you should begin this assignment by jotting down a list of topics or questions to refer to in the interview. {Attached; at some point this will be up on the 1500 Stories website} you will also find a question bank with suggestions for questions to ask. You do not need to follow this list strictly and you should feel free to add your own; these questions are merely guidelines to ensure you get rich and detailed information about the respondent’s thoughts, feelings, and experiences. Your questions must be OPEN-ENDED and designed to get STORIES from the respondent. Your goal is not to get information; it is to get stories.

Step 2: Choosing a respondent. NAME OF RESPONDENT, DATE/TIME OF INTERVIEW DUE ON {you choose the date} by {you choose the time} (? or 10 points)

A respondent is the person who agrees to talk with you and answer your questions. For this interview, the person must agree to be audio-recorded for publication on the 1500 Stories website. Show them the release form before you schedule the interview and get their consent before proceeding, so that you will know if you need to ask someone else instead. If you are e-mailing someone to make your request, I recommend using the line, “I am a college student in ______ at ______ College/University. I am doing a radio documentary about what it’s is like to live at different class positions for a public art, storytelling and civic engagement project called 1500 Stories. I would like to hear your story and I think your story is one that would be important to share with others.” You MAY use your personal networks—families, churches, mentors, high school faculty, community groups you belong to—if you want. You must begin trying to find someone IMMEDIATELY because you may get rejected by the first person or two you ask or have a hard time getting the person to respond to your calls and e-mails. Persistence is key. Keep in mind that even after you have set up the interview you will sometimes find that they stand you up and you have to reschedule. In worst-case scenarios, you may end up having to pursue another respondent. So it is very important to start this process as soon as possible.

It can be a challenge to find someone willing to spend time talking with you. Please keep in mind that when someone says yes, they are offering you a huge gift—the gift of their time and their vulnerability in letting you see a piece of their inner life. Be sure to convey your deep appreciation for this gift through your words and your actions.

When you have a respondent who has agreed to sign the release form, ask if s/he would be willing to talk with you for 30-45 minutes. Explain what the interview will be about and why you are doing it. Give them the release form (see attached) and have them sign it BEFORE THE INTERVIEW BEGINS. You might also give them some of the questions ahead of time so that they can be prepared and comfortable with what you are going to ask. Also make clear that the person can refuse to answer any question or stop the interview at any time.


Step 3: Conducting the interview. ELECTRONIC COPY OF AUDIO OR VIDEO RECORDING DUE and HARD COPY OF SIGNED RELEASE FORM DUE ON {you choose date} by {you choose time} (? Or 30 points)

{Once the website is up, the assignment can include these instructions: See the 1500 Stories website for the easiest audio recording apps to use for both Iphone and Android and be sure to load one.} Before the interview do a test run of your recording app that records for at least 30 minutes and try e-mailing it to someone to make sure it works. It is helpful if you talk with your respondent in a quiet place where you will not be interrupted. Remind the respondent that they can end the interview at any time or refuse to answer any question they do not feel comfortable with. Make clear that you would like to hear their stories. Record the interview—be sure that all of your equipment is recording properly BEFORE you begin the interview. In addition to the interview, were there any interesting sounds that might be useful to record? Remember that an interview is NOT the same as a conversation—your job is to ask questions, not to respond or comment on what the respondent shares. NEVER EVER INTERRUPT your interviewee and keep your opinions/comments to yourself. Wait at least 3-7 seconds after the respondent has finished talking before going on to the next question.

You will submit an electronic copy of your audio file to {you the teacher, or Jen Myhre at jennifermyhre@1500stories.org} as an e-mail attachment or to the 1500 Stories Dropbox account no later than {you choose the date}. I would advise you to send it to me as soon as you have it done—your assignment doesn’t count as submitted until I have sent you a confirmation that says I was able to open the file and listen to it successfully. If you can name the file in your app, please name your file: yourfirstnamelastname_interviewwith_intervieweefirstnamelastname. ALL INDIVIDUAL INTERVIEWS LESS THAN 20 MINUTES LONG AND ALL INTERVIEWS WITHOUT A RELEASE FORM WILL RECEIVE ZERO CREDIT. You will get points based on how long the interview is. All individual interviews at least 30 minutes long will receive 100% of the points; you will get scored based on the percentage of minutes out of 30.

Some tips for conducting the interview:

Good follow-up probes are key to a good interview. Questions that ask for concrete descriptions or stories will provide better data than questions that ask for generalizations. I often probe with questions like

  • “Tell me the story of how you ….”
  • “Can you paint a picture for me of how…”
  • “Walk me through what happened when…”
  • “Could you tell me a little more about….”
  • “When you said …., what did you mean by that?”
  • “Can you describe a specific instance where you ….?”
  • “What did you think/feel about …?

LISTEN to what your respondent tells you. This is the most important interviewing skill. This means, to a certain extent, following what your respondent wants to talk about and asking follow-up questions to comments s/he has made. Listening will help you think of good follow-up questions to get further detail and a better understanding of what s/he has told you. You will get a better interview if you listen and follow-up on what your respondent has said than if you stick to the script of your questions.

It is often helpful at the end of an interview to ask the respondent if there is anything they would like to add. Sometimes we get the most interesting stories of the interview when we ask this. Make sure you do not turn off the recorder until you are walking away from the interview. J

Thank your respondent for taking the time to speak with you. This is important both because the respondent has offered you a real gift of her/his time and honesty and also because you don’t want to give researchers a bad name.

{Additional optional steps if you are planning to assign a documentary project as well}


Step 4: Transcribing the interview. (? or 30 points)

This involves typing up everything that is said in interview indicating who says what, with timecodes roughly every 30 seconds.  If you conducted the interview in a pair, each of you should divide the interview up evenly—one person transcribes the first half and the partner transcribes the second half and each of you will SUBMIT YOUR OWN HALF INDIVIDUALLY.  The point of transcription is to allow editors to search easily for key ideas and then be able to find them in the audio file based on the timecodes. Transcription also allows researchers to search the text.  Also, it is during the transcribing that you will learn from the mistakes you made during the interview—things you should have asked differently, questions that worked or didn’t work, things you wish you would have probed about.  The easiest way to transcribe is to download the audiorecording onto a computer and then upload it to the Otranscribe website.  It will ask you to drag and drop the audio file and allow you to easily timestamp, as well as go faster or slower through the file. The most important thing to remember is to then COPY AND PASTE the full transcript into your word processor because Otranscribe will not save it.  Be sure to save as/export as/download as a Word Format document.  Use the following file name: lastnameofintervieweefirstnameofinterviewee_transcript.  You will turn in an electronic copy of the transcript and you will also submit this list electronically to the {I use a forum on the class website, so that students can see each other’s transcripts}.

Your transcript must list the following information at the top:

  • Your name and section
  • Information about the respondent, including their name and demographic information (age, gender, race, occupation, education, and sexual orientation).

Step 5: Reflecting on and writing about the interview process. (? or 30 points)

Write a one-page, single-spaced and typed reflection paper in which you evaluate both yourself as an interviewer and interviewing as a process. Write one full paragraph per question, using the Point/Illustration/Explanation (PIE) format, with specific illustrations directly from the interview. Be sure to address the following questions in your paper:

  • Evaluate yourself as an interviewer. How do you think the interview went? If you could go back and do it again, what would you do differently?  Support your evaluation with specific examples.
  • What did you learn about the process of in-depth interviewing as a social research method from this experience? What can in-depth interviewing tell us that other kinds of methods, such as surveys or web research or looking at historical documents, cannot?  Support your conclusions with specific examples.

Even if you conducted your interview with a partner, you will do this section individually.

A Note about Next Steps: Once you have submitted your interview to your teacher, the interview is no longer just “yours” but rather belongs to you, the class as a whole, and the 1500 Stories project. For the documentary project, students in any of the sections may use any of the interviews in order to create their documentary. For your documentary, you will need to cut together and interweave at least two different interviews, using any interviews from our class.

I sometimes add the following note:

A Note to Filmmakers: If you are already a filmmaker and can send me a link to prior work, please talk to me about the possibility of doing a video documentary instead of a radio documentary.