Advice for Field Research From Stephen Colbert

OK, so maybe Stephen Colbert wrote this list of tips for The Daily Show with Jon Stewart interviewers working on field pieces and not people like me who are doing field research for less entertaining purposes. No big deal. I read this list of advice in The Daily Show (The Book): An Oral History and knew it was just as useful for my type of research as it is for theirs. This is great advice for developing a rapport with someone, getting good information, and bringing a conversation back to a point. So without further ado:

Stephen Colbert’s advice for conducting field interviews

(With my annotations.)

  1. Burn Tape! Tape is cheap, keep talking and keep them talking . . . [Within the agreed-upon interview window!]
  2. Break up questions . . . Don’t let them see where you’re going. [And don’t let them think a certain answer is “right” if you really want something like the truth.]
  3. Play the silence. [YES.]
  4. Match energy with subject. [And YES.]
  5. Discover things in the moment! Be aware of when those “discoveries” happen. [Don’t be afraid to abandon your mod guide.]
  6. Always be asking yourself . . .”What’s my point of view on this subject?” [This is the early mental work of organizing your data into a framework.]
  7. You have to think it’s funny. Find a way to make that happen  . . . [This one is not as applicable to research, sadly.]
  8. Get clear on 3-5 things you want your subject to say and don’t leave until you get them. [Adjustment for research; get clear on 3-5 things you want your subject to comment on.]
  9. Understand the real point . . . what’s behind all this? [Ask the deeper question. Why? Why times five, even.]
  10. Character is key! Understand your P.O.V. on this issue and you will be able to react spontaneously in the moment. [Know your stuff inside and out, and you can be more in the moment.]

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