Interviewing experts will be a core part of our FLL Research Project.  Interviews with domain experts will help us inform, focus, and revise the thrust of our limited research and develop resources as well as optimize our ability to execute on our Project.  FLL judging also heavily weights how thoroughly teams conduct research and interviews with domain experts as a sign of well-thought out projects that are fact-checked and have the preliminary seal of approval of an expert in the field.

What makes a good interviewer is an art that includes a broad range of skills including background research, psychology, active listening, intelligent line of questioning, improv skills, salesmanship, networking, etc.  Like a good comic or salesman, a good interviewer is easy to overlook because they make their craft seem so effortless.

Here is a great introduction to the art of interviewing:

Effective Interviews of Subject Manner Experts


There are many interviewing tips online such as for interviewing experts for you blog.  More expert interviewing tips here.  Here is a good outline for interviewing domain experts:
Interview Guidelines

Below is a set of guidelines that will help you conduct an effective expert interview:


  • BE EARLY. This can be your best friend if the unexpected occurs, whether it be a flat tire, a late bus, a missing pen, or the need for a deep breath.
  • BE POLITE. Introduce yourself to the interviewee by stating your name and the reason you are there. Give a strong, firm handshake; this demonstrates confidence and professionalism.
  • BE CLEAR. Make sure that the questions you ask are clear and concise. Be straight to the point in the most simple manner possible. Use detail when necessary.
  • BE THANKFUL. Thank the interviewee for taking the time to meet with you. You may even want to send a “thank you” note or card afterwards to show your sincere appreciation.

Another article breaks down the interview process into 3 stages:

Phase 1: The Prep Work

At all costs, don’t walk into a meeting with a SME knowing nothing about the subject. Your questions will be more intelligent and you’ll be better able to drill down if you are a little knowledgeable about the content. Guidelines for Preparation:

  • Request documentation and resources prior to the interview. Then review these or do research on your own to get some background knowledge prior to the meeting.
  • Prepare interview questions ahead of time.
  • Request permission to record the interview. Although you’ll be taking notes like a fanatic, the recorded version will be greatly appreciated when you don’t understand your notes.
  • Bring a supply of paper and pencils so your SME can diagram processes, procedures and structures. You can also sketch to visually explain your ideas or understanding to the SME.
  • Establish what the meeting will accomplish, how it will be run and the types of questions you will ask. Explain this to your expert ahead of time, giving him or her time to prepare if needed.

Phase 2: The Interview

  • Be sure your SME knows that you are appreciative of his or her time and busy schedule.
  • Remember to record the interview for later reference if you have permission.
  • You may want to remind the SME that you know very little about his or her domain of expertise.
  • Narrow the focus of the interview to the specific skills and tasks targeted for training. It’s difficult for experts to minimize information—they know so much. You may have to politely ask, “Does a person really need to know that in order to perform the task?”
  • You may want to read and use the Five Moments of Need model to avoid getting a brain dump.
  • Ask questions that allow you to drill down to the level of content you need.
  • Take notes (on a laptop) and at appropriate points, repeat back what you heard in a summary form. You may wish to use a Content Collection Form. See the download link at the end of this article.
  • Encourage your expert to draw diagrams and mind maps whenever it will help you better understand the content.
  • Ask what types of visuals will be most effective for explaining abstract concepts.
  • Use your best listening skills.
  • Establish a procedure for contacting your SME with questions.

Phase 3: Follow-up

If your head is not exploding by the end of the interview, something probably went wrong. You will most likely feel a compulsion to get everything organized immediately, before the delicate puzzle pieces fall out of place. Follow that instinct.

  • Review your notes and clean them up so the information is clear.
  • Organize them into a form that will still make sense to you in a few weeks or months.
  • Listen to the recording to catch important details you missed in your notes.
  • Indicate where there are gaps in the information. You might be able to fill these in yourself if you have reference sources. Or place these in your question list for the SME (see below).
  • Through the design and development process, collect all of your SME questions in one place. Then email or set up a call when you’ve accumulated a good number of them. This minimizes the number of times you disturb your SME.

And then there is the subspecialty of conducting interviews of domain experts as part of field research for scientific goals.  Here is a that gives an overview of conducting qualitative interviews for academic areas like the social sciences.


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