How to write to practitioners?
Reaching out to a practitioner can feel daunting, especially when they are someone whose work you admire. Sending an email is a great way to reach out to somebody in a friendly and approachable manner, and can allow you to create connections with people and grow your network. Follow these tips below to learn how to send the perfect email. ︎
Finding contact details
So you’ve stumbled across the work of someone you admire, and want to find out more. Reaching out to them via email is a great way to connect to either ask a question or arrange a video call. First things first is to find their email address. Some practitioners make it super easy and publish their email address on their website, whereas others keep this information more private. You may have to reach out to the practitioner via social media, or search their LinkedIn. There is nothing wrong with messaging someone on social media, sending an Instagram DM may actually be someone's preferred method of communication!
Writing the message
When sending an initial message, it is important to be clear and concise and get your point across quickly, it is better to outline your request and follow up with more information if asked. Remember: these are busy people! The template below is great outline to use if reaching out to a practitioner to ask for an interview:
Dear Professor Graham,
My name is Amelia Kedge and I'm a student of MA Culture, Criticism and Curation at Central Saint Martins. I am currently working on a collaborative group project with Arebyte Gallery, London, where we are asked to create a digital toolkit for curating net.art.
We are researching resources and people of interest on the topic of digital curation, as well as the creation of digital and net.art, and what it means in the current social and political climate to curate online.
I'm reaching out to you in the hope to get an insight into your own practice, as well as your experience of working online. We hope to gather as much insight as possible and create a useful resource for fellow curators.
Please let me know if it would be of interest to you to arrange a short interview to discuss your thoughts on these topics.
In this example, the student is straight to the point and clearly outlines their project and what they are asking from the recipient. Whilst it might be tempting to shower the practitioner with praise and adoration, it is more important to remain professional in tone.
Now we wait...
Once you have emailed your practitioner, you wait. You may get a super quick response, or they may not get back to you at all. Or after months have passed and you’ve completely forgotten all about it you may receive a ‘sorry, just seen this’. Either way, don’t be offended if you don’t get a response, and don’t let it put you off, we all are guilty of missing emails or being totally swamped and unable to reply.
If you do get a response, great! You’re one step closer to building a connection. If they’ve asked you for more information, now is your time to elaborate on the details of your project or request - be sure to make it clear how their impact will help achieve your desired outcome.
If they have agreed to be interviewed, send them some dates and times and an option of video calling platforms to use (Microsoft Teams, Google Meets, and Zoom are probably the most common) and be sure to make clear how long the interview will be, ideally no more than an hour. You should also make clear what your intention is with the interview, is it going to be published or is it for your own personal use? If you're going to record it you must ask the interviewees permission first, and offer to share with them a copy of the recording and/or transcript after the event.
How to Interview? ︎︎︎
After deciding on an interview, you can prepare the following questions: who? how? when? where?
The first thing we need to do is to identify the people to be interviewed according to the needs of the project content. These names may be obtained from pre-project research or through referrals from practitioners in the field. The interview list should be as long as possible, as we cannot be sure how many of them will respond and participate. At this stage of the list, we should already have a basic understanding of the practitioners we are interviewing through our research.
Once we have a list of interviewees, the next step is to write an email. About how to write emails to practitioners: please see the session “How to write email to practitioners”.
Once you have heard back from the interviewees, it is time to get to know them better. This can be done by looking at their work, their publications, their experience in the field and gaining insight into their professional abilities. It is also possible to learn about their expressions and opinions from previous interviews they have participated in. It is best if both video and written interviews can be found, as it is possible to compare the difference between the interviewees' real language and their written language.
The list of interviewees can be accompanied by a list of interview questions. The questions at this stage are specific to the content of the project, but they are relatively broad, as they need to be adapted to the target audience once the responses have been received, for example by asking questions about projects the interviewee has worked on in the past, or by discussing what the interviewee has said. These questions can be sent to the interviewees so that they can prepare well.
The identification of the interview questions can help to organise the whole interview process and estimate the interview time. In addition, anticipating the material that will be used during the interview is also something that needs to be prepared at this stage. For example, if we are sure that we will be discussing some works or exhibitions, it is a good idea to prepare links or documents in advance so that the discussion can be more effective.
The time and place of the interview should be communicated to the interviewee in a follow-up email or social media post.
Online interviews are a more flexible option because neither the interviewer nor the interviewee has to be distracted by location and travel arrangements. One thing that needs to be prepared in advance is the link to the online interview. The interviewer can access the interview link in advance to set up the equipment and to check the features and limitations of some online interview platforms, for example Zoom's online meetings have time limits.
Offline interviews are more conducive to closer communication with interviewees. The location of the interview should be confirmed or booked in advance to ensure it is a quiet and comfortable environment. The interviewers also have to know some necessary information of the environment, for example the location of washroom. If the interview is to be recorded, the environment should be conducive to the placement of such equipment.
DURING THE INTERVIEW !!
The interview process is not only a process of asking questions according to the interview questions, but there are also a number of aspects that the interviewer can optimise throughout the process.
The first is the number of interviewers. Ideally there can be two or more interviewers, as at least one person can focus on the environment of the interview: aspects such as recording equipment, notes, length of online sessions, etc.
Next is the content of the interview. Even if an outline of the interview is already in place, the interview process is flexible and any delving into the topic will bring about changes in the interview questions. Our research on the interviewee will help us to guide the change of topic confidently in this part of the process.
Finally, there is the state of the interviewee. The whole interview should be respectful and relaxed, and we should help in this area if the interviewee shows nervousness (although we may be more nervous!).