Preparing for an Online Interview, Email Style

There’s no better network than your circle of friends. My web of friends and acquaintances has been my go to in my search for pageant leads. I finally found my source one night in a good friend who also happened to be in a sorority. I’m not sure why I hadn’t asked her earlier, as a girl who intimately knows more than three dozen other women on campus, it seems like she should have been call #1. That conversation led me to Emily Hinkson. I knew nothing more than her name, that she is a member of the Alpha Sigma Alpha sorority, and that she has been involved in pageants. I convinced my friend it was completely okay to give me Emily’s contact information, because it was totally not creepy thankyouverymuch because it was for research.  Then I sent an email.

Hey Emily,

My name’s Jess O’Shea and I’m a friend of Nicole’s. I’m a grad student doing research on beauty pageants and Nicole mentioned that you may be a good person to connect with. For a little more about my research, I’m looking into gaining insight into any and all aspects of pageants, staying pretty broad, and I’d just like to speak with you about your experiences. For more info, please look at my research blog

If you’d be willing to speak with me, either in-person or via email, please let me know! Thank you!


Boom! Look that those networking skills! 

I was also a bit nervous, since I had no idea of I would get a response or if she would be offended that our mutual friend had given out personal info. Then I received a reply, which started with the words “Wow! This is awesome!” so I figured I was all clear. Emily also requested that we converse over email, and so I turned to my next step. I’ve never done any sort of interview over email before. I’ve done a few audio interviews using programs like GoToMeeting, and I’ve done a handful of Skype interviews, but Email was a whole new beast. So I did what any good researcher does. I Googled Email Interview Techniques and started reading. 

I knew the basics: Open-ended questions, choose said questions carefully, don’t overwhelm them with a final exam style 10-page questionnaire, etc. There were a few other factors to emailed interview questions that I found extremely helpful:

–       Keep the questions short and to the point, with just one concept or inquiry per question

–       Start with the more general questions, but don’t over do those. Nobody likes typing out essays, let alone for strangers

–       Have specific or targeted questions, but only a handful at most. Again, it’s all about NOT overwhelming your source

–       Ask for documents or images relevant to your story, they can easily attach these to the email.

–       DON’T FORGET to ask if there are any other sources you should talk to that may be relevant to your story

See how I capitalized that last one? Guess who forgot. But aside from that, I found that these guidelines (taken largely from to be extremely helpful when trying to organize my many, many, many research avenues into a cohesive document to send to Emily. I also came across the point to send an email before the questions, asking about ground rules. What I mean is that I asked Emily how many questions she would be comfortable with, if she would be willing to include attachments, and made clear my expected deadlines (which I totally made up, but I figured a little sense of urgency never hurt nobody).  I also expressed that if there was anything she wasn’t comfortable discussing or answering that there was no pressure. I hardly wanted to make her feel like this was some sort of interrogation.

I had also learned from my previous interviews and spent a night going over my research, searching for Emily on the Internet (research just sounds so creepy sometimes), and general trying to make sure I wouldn’t make an ass of myself. I think I generally succeeded. With this in mind, I started creating my questions. Instead of limiting myself to the seven questions we had agreed upon, I created a list of everything I wanted to know. I ended up with about twenty-five questions, and from there I whittled down and combined them until I had my seven. I also kept five more on standby incase she didn’t want to answer one or was willing to answer more in future correspondence.

My first list of questions was:

  1. How did you get into pageants?
  2. Why have you stayed in them or why have you stopped?
  3. What was your favorite pageant?
  4. Did you ever have a negative experience?
  5. Is there anything about pageants that you would like changed?
  6. Has the stigma of pageants ever affected you?
  7. Is there anything else about your experience you wish to explain or include?

That last one was a shot in the dark, giving her an opening to go into anything that I would not think to ask about. Let’s be honest, there are lots of things I wouldn’t know to ask about. At this point, I was hopeful. I wasn’t sure what I really expected out of this and hopefully other exchanged, but I knew that I would at least have more of an understanding about pageantry before my time was out. 


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