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Dennis Fox's
Interview Paper Guidelines


Note: This handout is designed primarily for students in LES 407 Law and Society and supplements material in the syllabus.

Selecting Interviewees and Formulating Questions

Base your questions primarily on material discussed throughout the semester in the text and in class. You can interview just about anyone, since we are all affected by the law (for example, select a litigant in a civil suit or a lawbreaker). However, the paper may be easier to write if at least one of the people you interview has a formal role in the legal system, such as a lawyer, a paralegal, a judge, a juror, a legislator, a police officer, a prisoner, or a court clerk. In your paper, show the rationale for selecting your interviewees. What is the connection between them? For example, you might interview two lawyers with different perspectives. Or a juror and a judge about a particular kind of case. Or a divorce lawyer and someone who has hired a divorce lawyer.

Think in advance about questions that will help you understand how your interviewees interact with the legal system--and write these questions down. As you read the text throughout the semester, consider which parts are most relevant to the people you interview. For example, you might ask about the role of discretion in the system, or the influence of economics, or the changing role of women in law.


Explain the purpose of your study and assure the interviewee that he or she can choose to remain anonymous in the written paper. Explain that there are no "right or wrong" answers. You are interested in his or her opinions and experiences, not just about the questions you have prepared but about other issues the interviewee thinks are relevant. Ask permission to tape record the interview so that you can accurately report his or her words (but do not tape if the person says no).

Ask open-ended questions ("To what extent can a police officer use discretion in enforcing the law?"), not leading questions ("Don't you think that police officers have too much discretion in how they give out speeding tickets?"). Use follow-up questions to probe for more details ("Could you tell me more about that?"). If your interviewee does not mention things you expect, probe further ("Did you ever have trouble deciding whether or not to give a speeding ticket?")

The Paper

The paper should include at least the following elements:

I Introduction (3-4 pages)

  • who you interviewed; biographical profiles
  • design of the study (procedures, methods, questions)

II Comparative Analysis (5-6 pages)

  • what have you learned?
  • what patterns and themes can you identify? Demonstrate with quotes.
  • what can you conclude about different perspectives on the legal system?

III Making Connections (3-5 pages)

  • what connections do you make between your research and at least three specific readings from the course? Demonstrate using direct quotes.
  • in what way do your interviews support or refute other text material?

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Page updated September 30, 2007