You may have the gift of the gab, but don't go requesting an important research interview without some level of preparation. It doesn't matter if you're doing research as part of your graduate education or you're working on a historical epic; your interview subject deserves to know that you've done your homework and you're not going to waste her time.
Research the person whom you want to interview. If the subject is famous or well-known in her field, she may not want to waste time covering the basics of her background. Find out as much as you can from her biography, published work, website or other documentation before making your request. This provides another advantage: you'll be able to ask specific questions about her work during your request.
Send a cordial e-mail to the person you want to interview. If the person has a public relations agent or manager, you'll know that from your research -- and you'll know to direct your request to that person. Briefly explain your affiliation -- whether you're a grad student, journalist, academic researcher or something else -- and then explain why the interview is crucial to your research. Cite any specific parts of the person's work or experience that you want to discuss, and tell the person how long you expect the interview to take. In short, cover all the bases of who, what, when, where, why and how the interview will take place.
Offer as many methods of conducting the interview as possible. If you're lucky enough to live close to the person you want to interview, that's great -- you may be able to meet in person. But in a busy world, even someone who lives down the street may not have time to fit in an in-person meeting. Offer to meet via Skype or other video chat method or over the telephone -- anything that makes getting the interview easier. Whatever method you choose, make yourself do more of the heavy lifting; travel to her side of town, for example, or tell her that you'll call her instead of the other way around.
Make yourself as available as humanly possible. Unless you have a commitment that you absolutely cannot miss -- such as defending your graduate thesis, for example -- try to accommodate the interviewee's schedule.
Provide advance questions if the interviewee requests them. In order to provide accurate and well-researched responses to your questions, some interviewees may prefer to know what you'll be asking ahead of time. Make this accommodation for the interviewee -- and then remind her that you may come up with other questions on the fly, just in case.
- In-person interviews are always best, so they should be your first choice. You will observe all kinds of details in your subject's office or home that can help you to understand and describe the person, if that's the kind of piece you are working on.
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