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Man reading war news aboard streetcar. San Francisco, California

[Detail] Reading war news aboard streetcar. San Francisco, California

Analyzing Interview Techniques

Conducting a successful interview can be a challenge. The right question asked in the right way can prompt interesting and insightful responses. The wrong question or even the right question asked in the wrong way can cause an interviewee to stop talking freely.

Some of the interviews in After the Day of Infamy: "Man-on-the-Street" Interviews Following the Attack on Pearl Harbor include the interviewer's questions, while others do not. Look first at some of the interviews for which the questions are not provided; here are a few examples:

Listen to or read the transcripts of the interviews above or other interviews in which the questions are not provided.

  • For each set of interviews, what question do you think was asked? What leads you to that conclusion?
  • Which question(s) do you think prompted the most interesting responses? Explain you answer.
  • Which question(s) do you think prompted the least interesting responses? Why do you think that is true?

Now examine some interviews where the questions are provided. Here are a few examples:

Listen to or read the transcripts of the above interviews or others in which the interviewers' questions are provided. To what extent did the interviewers follow the tips listed below? Are the interviews in which the interviewer followed these tips more interesting than the interviews in which the interviewer violated them? Choose one of the interviews you think is flawed and show how the interviewer might have been more successful by following these tips.

Tips for Conducting Interviews

  • Be prepared. If possible, know the background of the person you are interviewing. Write some questions in advance (but don't read them as if from a script).
  • Ask one question at a time. If you ask several questions at once, some won't be answered.
  • Keep your questions short and simple. Don't introduce your question with long speeches presenting your own opinions. In general, talk as little as possible.
  • Don't answer your own questions. Some silence is fine.
  • Don't argue with the interviewee. You are trying to get information, not win an argument. Don't repeat questions trying to get the answer you wanted.
  • Always listen to the answers to your questions so that you can follow up on what the interviewee says. If you are too busy thinking about your next question, you may miss important points that should be expanded upon. Not listening also breaks the trust you have established with the interview subject.
  • Clarify if you don't understand a response.
  • Keep control of the interview. If the person you are interviewing goes off topic in an unproductive manner, redirect them to the topic in which you are interested.

In 2002, Fletcher Collins, one of the "Man on the Street" interviewers, recalled the equipment used in collecting the interviews:

". . . The instrument itself was twenty-five pounds. The batteries were another fifty, I guess, an A battery and a B battery, and most of the places I went didn't have electricity so you had to lug all this stuff. It was an aluminum disc, it played at 78 [rpm], I guess. It played with a needle, like the old-time phonographs. And you could make your own needle with a good-quality thorn."

From American Radio Works "Interviewing the Man on the Street: 1941 and 2001"

How do you think managing this equipment would affect the job of interviewing people?