December 03, 2018

Article Focus On: Interviews – why do they matter?

One of my favourite kinds of articles frequently submitted to Exchanges are interviews, also known as ‘Conversations with…’, with key disciplinary figures. Since the first issue where Walsh interviewed Oliver Sacks [1] through to Kremers and Eggert’s efforts in the most recently published volume [2, 3], these have been perennially popular articles for authors and readers alike. Personally, I love the idea that through being an author of one of these pieces provides the author with a great excuse to talk directly with the great and the good within their field. You see, it can be challenging when you’re trying to network at conferences and other academic events, to think of a good topic to break the ice with an ‘academic celebrity’. I’ll admit it, I’ve been tongue tied myself when meeting notable names in my own field, and gushing ‘Oh I just love your books!’, isn’t quite the professional demeanour you might want to project. Nevertheless, asking someone if you can interview them for a publication is a great starter to at least a good chat, and who knows what else.

In terms of what we expect from an interview, the outline on our author guidance page is quite brief:

A dialogue with significant research figures in any field, with a particular focus on their interdisciplinary contributions (3,000-5,000 words).

Although, it does go on to note that authors considering writing one of these ‘are strongly encouraged to discuss the proposed content with the Senior Editor or a member of the Editorial Board, prior to submission. This will allow us to scope if the proposed piece will be suitable for Exchange’s diverse readership.’ [4]. As a result, I’ve realised it’s probably worth talking briefly about the type of content we’re looking for, to help guide future authors.

Content

In terms of the content, what the best of these articles do is initially to provide some context about the interviewee themselves. While we have had some considerable public intellectuals interviewed in past issues, there’s no guarantee a figure who is a giant in your field will always have instant recognition among our diverse readership. Hence, providing a potted biography at the start of an interview article really helps set the scene for readers and draws them in to why this person is important and worth their time reading about. For me, the best revcent example of how to approach this section of the article was provided by Roca-Lizarazu and Vince [5] who not only take the time to introduce their interviewee, Stef Craps, but also a rather neat introduction the field within which he has been so crucial. Aspiring Exchanges authors could do a lot worse than by following their approach.

Questions & Answers

One thing we don’t demand of our interview articles, is that interviewers make use of a pre-defined set of questions. We want the authors themselves to put their own particular spin on things and have an effective presence within the article. Certainly, as an experienced research interviewer myself, I know some of the best and most revelatory conversations can be rather freewheeling ones, rather than ones slavishly sticking to the script. That said, given our interdisciplinary nature as a journal, I would hope to see every interview develop conversations around each interviewees’ career, their influences and especially how/where they see the relevance of their work to the wider domain. We often also see interviewees holding forth on the ‘state of the art’ within their discipline, and sometimes looking towards the future. Alongside this, there is often some useful discussions around the authors and works they’ve been influenced by themselves. Given their expertise, what has piqued their interest, is generally something aspiring or new scholars within a field are likely to be very interested in reading about.

Benefits

As a result, this means interviews serve rather neatly as mini-review articles, exploring the field as guided by a noted expert. I believe this provides a reason why these types of articles are some of our most downloaded ones. That is because for scholars new to a field, they provide a wonderful guided entrance point through which to explore and expand their own knowledge. The other reasons I think they are popular are firstly partly due to the name recognition of the interviewees, big names are always a draw for scholarly journals as authors or subjects of discussion. Hence, as an editor, ever mindful of increasing our readership and visibility across the academy, I find them very useful.

That said, the other key reason is generally the sheer readability and accessibility these conversation articles offer. Even as an interdisciplinary journal, we cannot claim that every paper will be accessible to all readers, there is just no escaping from the specialised lexicon of most fields at times. Nevertheless, within interviews scholars are generally speaking in more naturalistic tones than you would find, say, in one of their articles or books. Similar to a lecture, this permits readers from outside their immediate field to more readily access their expert thought, insight and knowledge. Hence, I strongly believe this demonstrates why interviews are very much at the heart of Exchanges’ mission to propagate and support interdisciplinary research discourse.

Setting Up Interviews

Now, how do you go about setting up an interview for the purposes of publishing with Exchanges? Well, you’ll have to wait until my a future post for a discussion of that.

[1] Walsh, J., 2013. Oliver Sacks. Exchanges: The Warwick Research Journal, 1(1). Available at: https://doi.org/10.31273/eirj.v1i1.69

[2] Kremers, R., 2018. Conversation with…Wendy Larner. Exchanges: The Interdisciplinary Journal, 6(1). Available at: https://doi.org/10.31273/eirj.v6i1.243

[3] Eggert, J.P., 2018. Researching Terrorism and Political Violence: An Interview with Louise Richardson. Exchanges: The Interdisciplinary Journal, 6(1). Available at: https://doi.org/10.31273/eirj.v6i1.266

[4] Exchanges, 2018. Author Guidelines. Exchanges: The Interdisciplinary Journal. Available at: https://exchanges.warwick.ac.uk/guidance

[5] Roca-Lizarazu & Vince, R., 2018. Memory Studies Goes Planetary: An Interview with Stef Craps. Exchanges: The Interdisciplinary Journal, 5(2). Available at: https://doi.org/10.31273/eirj.v5i2.245


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