IDS 260W: Women Naturalists
Loers, Long, Rose
29 March 04


To interview a contemporary woman naturalist or scientist to learn about her experiences in science, her life choices, her rewards and challenges, and her attitudes and beliefs about science and gender.

To produce an essay based on interview material which presents this scientist’s life and interprets/evaluates it in comparison with some of the earlier women we have been studying.


Length:6 - 8 double-spaced pages, approx. 1500-2000 words

Documentation: Use MLA style for documentation of sources; be sure to include relevant information about time, place, and mode of interview.

Due dates:

Draft due:Monday, April 19th. Bring three copies, two for your peer group and one for the faculty.

Final essay due: Monday, May 3rd. With the final essay, turn in your draft, your peer feedback, and a cover reflection page about the process of writing the essay. (This reflection might include comments on the process of the interview, things you tried in the essay that worked or didn’t work, things you would especially like comments on, things you learned from peer feedback, etc.)


In this essay you will in part be presenting a profile of a woman scientist, analogous to profiles that you might read in the New Yorker; you will also be presenting the results of your interview/conversation as qualitative research, research which can help to answer questions about contemporary issues in gender and science. You should consider some of the following guidelines:

  1. Use direct quotes. Nothing presents your interviewee’s voice as clearly as direct quotes. You will therefore need to think about how to incorporate quotes smoothly into your own writing and how to select fairly and appropriately from the material of your interview.
  2. Use description. In some cases, describing your subject or the location of your interview or scenes from your interviewee’s life and experiences will help to convey important points in your essay. Be sure to record these details in the process of your interview.
  3. Give adequate attention to the scientific work of your subject. You are writing a profile with a purpose. Though collateral information about your interviewee can certainly be interesting and important, don’t forget that your primary focus in the scientific work of your subject and its relation to other aspects of her life and of the world around her.
  4. Give thought to how your own voice will appear in the essay. You will have choices to make about voice in this essay. You may certainly use the personal voice, but you will want to be thoughtful about how you present yourself in the essay, how you articulate your interpretations, how you portray your relation to the interviewee.
  5. Define your audience. It will perhaps be easiest to think of our class as your audience, a group of readers who have been thinking about issues of gender and science and who have some knowledge of the history of women in science. However, you will want to make your important insights accessible to a broader audience who may not share all of our background. Achieving this goal will mean making an effort to contextualize your interpretations adequately.

Reserve Books:

There are several books on reserve under Professor Long’s name which might be helpful in thinking about how to conduct your interview:

HM48.K9 Steinar Kvale. InterViews: An Introduction to Qualitative Research Interviewing. Sage Publications, 1996.

This work comes from the perspective of qualitative research in the social sciences and has interesting sections on theoretical and ethical issues as well as on methods of writing.

PN4784.I6 B53 Shirley Biagi. Interviews that Work: a Practical Guide for Journalists. Wadsworth Publishing Co., 1986.

As the title suggests, this work is oriented toward journalistic interviews. It has good suggestions for recording and conducting the interview as well as techniques for good writing.

PN4784.I6 M4 1989 Ken Metzler. Creative Interviewing: The Writer’s Guide to Gathering Information by Asking Questions. Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1989.

Metzler also comes at the interview from the point of view of the journalist. He offers good suggestions on the dynamics of an interview and on the uses of journalistic observation and the use of quotes.

Criteria for Evaluation:

Your final essays will be evaluated with the following criteria in mind:

  1. Characterization: You present the interviewee as a character with depth; direct quotes are used effectively to provide a clear understanding of the person.
  2. Focus: Issues of gender and science are brought out clearly in your questioning and in your presentation of the interview material; adequate attention and detail is given to the scientific work of the subject.
  3. Description: Setting, description and visual imagery are used effectively to present both the character and your analysis.
  4. Incidents: Specific incidents are used to help show character traits and to support your analysis.
  5. Significance: The character is shown as an important person in the context of her life; specific examples are used to illustrate that importance.
  6. Organization: The essay is thoughtfully organized to bring out interpretive points; it is not simply a chronological recitation of the questions asked and the answers received. Elements such as description, anecdotes, and analysis are woven together throughout.
  7. Analysis: The material of the interview is clearly related to our class readings and discussions.
  8. Voice and Tone: The writer’s voice is present in the essay; choice of words, details and incident tells the writer’s attitude clearly and consistently.
  9. Mechanics:The writer has control of the mechanics of grammar and has proofread carefully; the text is free of mechanical error.

Protocols for Interviewing:

  1. Contact your interviewee promptly by phone and request an interview. Explain clearly who you are and why you wish to interview her; explain the focus of your interview. We will provide you with a letter of introduction if needed. Give your interviewee several methods of contacting you and be as flexible as possible about interview times.
  2. Discuss methods of recording your interview. Make sure both you and your interviewee are comfortable with your methods of recording the interview. Ask permission to use a tape recorder; it is usually helpful to take notes as well as using tapes. (We can help in supplying tape recorders if necessary.) Email can sometimes be a useful adjunct to the interview as well, especially for call-back questions, if your interviewee is willing.
  3. Arrange to check back on follow-up questions or accuracy of quotes. It is useful to ask permission to check back with your interviewee if you need to follow-up on something in the interview or check your quotes for accuracy.
  4. Be clear with your interviewee about the audience for your essay. The primary readers for your essays will be your peer review group in the class and your three faculty members. No further public presentation of your work will be undertaken without the express permission of your interviewee.
  5. Find out everything you can about your interviewee in advance. Having some information about the nature of your subject’s job, checking their web-page if they have one, checking biographical listings in the library where appropriate, etc., can be useful in giving you a starting place for your interview.
  6. Be polite. Remember these folks are doing us a service in giving some of their time to the interview.
  7. Be aware of ethical issues which arise in the interview. Conflicts of interest, information which might harm another, unfounded opinions, misperceptions... all of these things can arise on either side of an interview. Remain sensitive to ethical issues both in your interviewing and in your writing.
  8. Don’t despair. If your first interview contact falls through for some reason, we’ll help you find another.
Willamette University

Writing Center

900 State Street
Salem Oregon 97301 U.S.A.

Back to Top