Using an interview in a research paper

Consultant contributor: Viviane Ugalde

Using an interview can be an effective primary source for some papers and research projects. Finding an expert in the field or some other person who has knowledge of your topic can allow for you to gather unique information not available elsewhere.

There are four steps to using an interview as a source for your research.

  • Know where and how to start.
  • Know how to write a good question.
  • Know how to conduct an interview.
  • Know how to incorporate the interview into your document or project.

Step one: Where to start

First, you should determine your goals and ask yourself these questions:

  • Who are the local experts on topic?
  • How can I contact these people?
  • Does anyone know them to help me setup the interviews?
  • Are their phone numbers in the phone book or can I find them on the Internet?

Once you answer these questions and pick your interviewee, get their basic information such as their name, title, and other general details. If you reach out and your interview does not participate, don’t be discouraged. Keep looking for other interview contacts.

Step two: How to write a good question

When you have confirmed an interview, it is not time to come up with questions.

  • Learning as much as you can about the person before the interview can help you create questions specific to your interview subject.
  • Doing research about your interviewee’s past experience in your topic, or any texts that they have written would be great background research.

When you start to think of questions, write down more questions than you think you’ll need, and prioritize them as you go. Any good questions will answer the 5W and H questions. Asking Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How questions that you need answered for your paper, will help you form a question to ask your interviewee.

When writing a good question, try thinking of something that will help your argument.

  • Is your interviewee an advocate for you position?
  • Are they in any programs that are related to your research?
  • How much experience do they have?

From broad questions like these, you can begin to narrow down to more specific and open-ended questions.

Step three: The interview

If at all possible, arrange to conduct the interview at the subject’s workplace. It will make them more comfortable, and you can write about their surroundings.

  • Before asking your questions
    • Begin the interview with some small talk in order to give both of you the chance to get comfortable with one another
    • Develop rapport that will make the interview easier for both of you.
  • Once you begin asking the questions
    • Take notes
    • Ask open-ended questions
    • Keep the conversation moving
    • Stay on topic
    • Love the silence
      • The more silence in the room, the more honest the answer.
      • If an interesting subject comes up that is related to your research, ask a follow-up or an additional question about it.
  • By the end of the interview
    • Ask if you can stay in contact with your interview subject in case there are any additional questions you have.

Step four: Incorporating the interview

When picking the material out of your interview, remember that people rarely speak perfectly. There will be many slang words and pauses that you can take out, as long as it does not change the meaning of the material you are using.

As you introduce your interview in the paper, start with a transition such as “according to” or other attributions. You should also be specific to the type of interview you are working with. This way, you will build a stronger ethos in your paper .

The body of your essay should clearly set up the quote or paraphrase you use from the interview responses,. Be careful not to stick a quote from the interview into the body of your essay because it sounds good. When deciding what to quote in your paper, think about what dialogue from the interview would add the most color to your interview. Quotes that illustrate what your interviewer sounded like, or what their personality is are always the best quotes to choose from.

Once you have done that, proofread your essay. Make sure the quotes you used don’t make up the majority of your paper. The interview quotes are supposed to support your argument; you are not supposed to support the interview.

For example, let’s say that you are arguing that free education is better than not. For your argument, you interview a local politician who is on your side of the argument. Rather than using a large quote that explains the stance of both sides, and why the politician chose this side, your quote is there to support the information you’ve already given. Whatever the politician says should prove what you argue, and not give new information.

Step five: Examples of citing your interviews 


Smith, Jane. Personal interview. 19 May 2018.


(E. Robbins, personal communication, January 4, 2018).


Smith also claimed that many of her students had difficulties with APA style (personal communication, November 3, 2018).

Reference list

Daly, C. & Leighton W. (2017). Interviewing a Source: Tips. Journalists Resource.

Driscoll, D. (2018 ). Interviewing. Purdue University

Hayden, K. (2012). How to Conduct an Interview to Write a Paper. Bright Hub Education, Bright Hub Inc.

Hose, C. (2017). How to Incorporate Interviews into Essays. Leaf Group Education.

Magnesi, J. (2017). How to Interview Someone for an Article or Research Paper. Career Trend, Leaf group Media.