Most important task when preparing a research interview


We take interviews to get the story behind a participant’s experiences. Before we decide to take up an interview, we must articulate to ourselves what problems or needs we should be addressing using the information to be gathered by the interviews. The interviewer can pursue in-depth information about a topic. The interview may be beneficial as a follow-up to respondents to questionnaires. e.g., to further investigate their responses. Usually, we ask open-ended questions during interviews which helps us keep a clear focus on the intent of each question.

The Role of the Interviewer

The interviewer is the “jack-of-all-trades” in survey research. The interviewer’s role is complex and multifaceted. It includes the following tasks:

  • Locate and enlist the cooperation of respondents – the interviewer has to look for the respondent. There are times when the interviewer has to work at the least desirable time because that is when the respondents are available immediately. 
  • Motivate respondents to do a good job – The interviewer should be motivated and transfer the same energy to the respondent. If the interviewer does not take the work seriously, why would the respondent? The interviewer has to convey the importance of the research.
  • Clarify any confusion/concerns – The interviewer must be patient with the interviewees when they have to clear a doubt. Interviewers have to be able to think on their feet. The respondents may raise objections or concerns that are not anticipated. The interviewer has to be able to respond candidly and informatively.
  • Observe the quality of responses – Only the interviewer can judge the quality of the information whether the interview is personal or over the phone. Even a verbatim transcript will not adequately convey how seriously the respondent took the assigned task, gestures, or other information.
  • Conduct a good interview – Last, and certainly not least, the interviewer has to conduct good decorum! Every interview has a life of its own. Some respondents are motivated and attentive whereas others are distracted or disinterested. The interviewer also has good or bad days. Assuring a consistently high-quality interview is a challenge that requires constant effort.

Preparation for Interview

  1. Choose a setting with little distraction – The interviewee is an asset for us. We have to make sure that they are comfortable. Avoid loud lights or noises, etc. Often, they may feel more comfortable at their places of work or homes.
  2. Explain the purpose of the interview – The interviewee should be familiar with the purpose of the interview.
  3. Address terms of confidentiality – Explain the terms of confidentiality to the interviewee beforehand. You have to be careful while doing this. You can rarely promise anything as the information might be accessible by certain officials or higher authorities. Explain who will get access to their answers and how they are analyzed. If you’re using their comments as quotes, get their permission beforehand.
  4. Explain the format of the interview – Be clear with the type of interview you will be conducting and explain its nature to the interviewee. If you want them to ask questions, specify if they’re to do so as they have them or wait until the end of the interview.
  5. Indicate how long the interview usually takes –  People do not want to waste their time. Give the interviewee an approx time that the interview might take.
  6. Ask them if they have any questions – Before you start the interview and after you end the interview, make sure that the interviewee has no questions or confusion.
  7. Don’t count on your memory to recall their answers – Ask their permission to record the interview or carry a notepad for pointers.

Types of Interviews

  1. Informal, conversational interview – There is no predetermined set of questions. We should remain as open and adaptable as possible to the interviewee’s nature and priorities. The interviewer should go with the flow.
  2. General interview guide approach – This approach intends to ensure that the interviewer collects the same information from each interviewee. This approach is more focused than the conversational approach but still allows freedom and adaptability in getting information from the interviewee.
  3. Standardized, open-ended interview – In this approach, the interviewee is free to answer the question in whatever way they want. (they don’t have to select yes or no or any numeric rating) This approach facilitates faster interviews that can be more easily analyzed and compared.
  4. Closed, fixed-response interview – This approach tends to fix a set of questions that the interviewer asks all the interviewees. They have to choose answers from among the same set of alternatives. 

Types of Topics in Questions

Patton notes six kinds of questions. One can ask questions about:

  1. Behaviors – Ask about what they are doing currently or what experience do they have from the past. 
  2. Opinions/values – A person’s opinion describes them. Ask what they think about a topic.
  3. Feelings – Look for the feelings of the interviewee. Make sure that the interviewee is giving their personal opinion and experience. 
  4. Knowledge – Try to get facts about the relevant topic.
  5. Sensory – Ask about their sensation towards the topic. About what people have seen, touched, heard, tasted, or smelled.
  6. Background/demographics – Ask basic questions to know about the interviewee. (age, height, occupation)

Sequence of Questions

  1. Involve the interviewee in the interview as soon as possible – Make the respondent comfortable quickly and cooperate during the interview.
  2. Before asking about controversial matters (such as feelings and conclusions), first, ask about some facts – With this approach, respondents can more easily engage in the interview before warming up to more personal matters.
  3. Intersperse fact-based questions throughout the interview – To avoid long lists of fact-based questions, which tends to leave respondents disengaged.
  4. Ask questions about the present before questions about the past or future – Respondents are comfortable answering about their present than answering about their future. In the beginning, ask about their present and then get into asking about their future.
  5. The last questions might allow respondents to provide any other information they prefer to add and their impressions of the interview – Give the respondent the liberty to add any extra information they want to.

Wording of Questions

  1. The wording should be open-ended – Respondents should be able to choose their terms when answering questions.
  2. Questions should be as neutral as possible – Avoid wording that might influence answers, e.g., evocative, judgmental.
  3. One question at a time – The interviewer should not confuse the interviewee by asking too many questions at once.
  4. Questions must be transparent – This includes knowing any terms particular to the program or the respondents’ culture. There must not be any two-faced questions in the set.
  5. Be careful asking “why” questions – This type of question infers a cause-effect relationship that may not truly exist. These questions may also cause respondents to feel defensive, e.g., that they have to justify their response, which may inhibit their response to this and future question.

Conducting Interview

  1. Occasionally verify the tape recorder (if used) is working – If you’re using a recorder make sure you check it beforehand because you can’t afford to lose the interview.
  2. Ask one question at a time – when you ask too many questions at once, it will confuse the interviewee that eventually will lead the interview to go wrong.
  3. Attempt to remain as neutral as possible – Try not to show emotions to the interviewee’s answers. Pretend that you have heard it all before.
  4. Encourage responses – Be attentive and give occasional nods of the head, “uh-huh”s, etc.
  5. Be careful about the appearance when note-taking –  That is, if you jump to take a note, it may appear as if you’re surprised or very pleased about an answer, which may influence the answer to the future question.
  6. Don’t lose control of the interview – This can occur when respondents stray to another topic, take so long to answer a question that times begin to run out.

Immediately After Interview

  1. Verify if the tape recorder, if used, worked throughout the interview.
  2. Make any notes on your written notes – Clarify any scratchings, ensure to number the pages, fill out any pointers that don’t make sense, etc.
  3. Write down any observations made during the interview – For example, where did the interview occur and when, was the respondent particularly nervous at any time? Were there any surprises during the interview? Did the tape recorder break?

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