Primary Research

Primary research means that you exchange information directly with the expert. Usually this means a face-to-face conversation, but it can also include a telephone call or an e-mail exchange. If you are going to use e-mail to exchange information with someone that you do not know, make certain that you have your parents' permission.

There are many ways to conduct primary research. You can visit companies like engineering firms, utilities, energy production corporations, or construction companies; government agencies that are involved in city planning, energy, environmental protection, or first response; or university departments involved in engineering, chemistry, sustainability, orpolitical scienceto speak with the resident experts. Chambers of Commerce and industry associations are also good places to visit. You can also contact them by telephone or e-mail. Your interviews may be in person, on the telephone, or using Skype.

How do we find the right person to talk with? A good place to start is with your parents. Your parents may have knowledge that is useful for your project. You may also have relatives who are also knowledgeable. Your parents may also have friends and acquaintances who are experts in areas that are important to your project. Your teacher and engineering mentor may also have useful contacts. Ask them to help you.

Another place to look is your secondary research. Look who wrote the articles or books and see if there is contact information with the research. You may also Google their names to see if they have Internet contact information. Before you contact anyone, get your parents' permission.

When you make contact, politely request an interview. Tell your contact why you would like to meet with them and how much time that you will need. If your contact agrees to an interview, he or she will tell you the date and time and the method of interview e.g. in person or telephone. Don't be disappointed if your contact declines. Experts are always busy people.

The Interview

Whether your interview is in person or on the phone, time is most important. You should be totally prepared before you begin the interview. The following is a list of tips to help you conduct a successful interview:

  • know why you want to interview this person,
  • prepare a written list of questions (send a copy to the contact so that he or she may be prepared),
  • be able to take notes,
  • with the permission of your contact, you may voice record the interview,
  • dress appropriately,
  • be respectful and stay focused on your topic,
  • do not waste your contact's time,
  • find out information about the contact,
  • find out information about the contact’s organization,
  • include all members of your team,
  • write a summary of everything that you learn from the interview,
  • and ALWAYS thank the contact for his or her time and information (send an email or thank you note too)

Remember to put your notes in the Research Folder in your Project Archive.

Your teacher or a parent should always accompany you on any field trip.


Questionnaires are another method for gathering information from experts. The questionnaire is just a list of written questions that you ask an expert to answer. Make certain that your questions are thoughtful and focused on the topic. There should be no more than 5 questions in your questionnaire, so choose wisely. You can e-mail or mail the questionnaire to your contact. Because you do not receive an immediate response from the expert, you should send a questionnaire well before you need the information.


Even though we will discuss bibliographies later in the essay and city narrative sections it is important that you know how to record bibliography information as you gather your research.

Don't be overwhelmed by all of the information that may be there for you to read. You will find what you need for everything that you're going to do on your Future City Competition project.

Happy Hunting!