Tuesday, April 07, 2015

Research for introverts: in praise of the email interview

There comes a time in the life of every novelist when she has to conduct research. There also comes a time when Google and Wikipedia and even the local public library don't provide exactly what you need. And then the novelist realizes that there is no workaround: she has to talk to an actual person. Specifically, she must ask a person questions about, say, aeronautical engineering--not only to fill in gaps in the subject matter, which are too vast to fill in the end, but to find out what it's like to be an aeronautical engineer. And yet she does not really want to ask a person, because she feels guilty about taking up someone's time, and also perhaps embarrassed about her total ignorance of what, for that person, is ordinary life. Where does one begin? Where does one end?

This is where I've found email to be remarkably helpful. Of course you may not get the kind of spontaneous expression you get by phone or in person. You may need visual or auditory information that email can't provide. But with email, you do often get considered, detailed answers to your questions, which you can refer back to later without having to take notes yourself. You also--and this is key--have the opportunity to ask further questions in a relatively unobtrusive way, and the interviewee has the same chance to send more info when he thinks of it later, which he often will. You have specific examples in the interviewee's own words of professional or personal language--with no chance you misheard or mis-transcribed it. And you--or I--feel less guilty because you've allowed the interviewee more control over when and where he answers your questions.

In short, for my fellow introverts, asking questions by email is way better than not asking them at all ... and can bring you truly surprising and useful results.

This has been another edition of Stuff Other People Have Known for a Long Time But Is Exciting News to Me.

For when the phone is just too much.

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