Outstanding General Guidelines for Conducting Research Interviews

Introduction

Interviews have proved to be a popular instrument for collecting primary data and creating a bright story of respondents’ experiences. With the help of interviews, researchers try to look deeper into the meanings and perceptions of other individuals. They also learn more about the different perspectives of different people on the same phenomenon.

However, before you create an effective interview instrument and use it in research, be ready to specify the problem you are investigating. You will have to be sure that your instrument perfectly aligns with the goals and issues articulated in your study.

Preparing for an Interview

  1. Focus on selecting an appropriate setting. Make sure that the interview setting does not distract your respondents from the interview. It should not be noisy. It should not be too bright. Sometimes, you would better interview your respondents in their natural work or home setting.
  2. Explain the goals and functions of your interview.
  3. Consider the issues of privacy and confidentiality. Explain how you will protect your respondents’ confidentiality (Be cautious, because you can never promise absolute confidentiality. For example, you might be obliged to disclose interview responses under court order. However, be ready to explain who will use this information and for what purposes). Obtain written informed consent to use the interview results in your study.
  4. Explain how the interview will be organized and formatted. Tell your respondents how you will be conducting your interview and what types of questions you plan to ask.
  5. Tell your respondents how long each interview will last.
  6. Provide valid contact details so that respondents can contact you if needed.
  7. Give your respondents an opportunity to ask questions before the interview.
  8. Record their responses, because you cannot simply memorize them. Obtain informed consent to tape record each interview.

Types of Interviews

  1. Conversational interviews (informal) –you will not have any preliminary questions to be asked. Rather, you will create a perfect environment for a conversation with your respondents. The respondent will define the direction and flow of the interview.
  2. Interview guide (general) – with the help of a guide approach, the researcher will gather some general information; although this approach is as general as the conversational one, it still allows the researcher to ask some specific questions and change the direction of the conversation.
  3. Open-ended interviews (standardized) – these are the interviews conducted with the help of open-ended questions, which empower interviewees to elaborate on the most problematic aspects of their personal experiences. This approach allows interviewees to provide rich responses beyond simple “yes” or “no”, but it can also be standardized for all respondents, thus making it easier for the researcher to process raw data.
  4. Fixed-response (closed) – these are the interviews which include standardized close-ended questions and imply that respondents will provide standardized answers that can be easily processed.

Topics and Issues to Be Discussed in Interviews

Researchers can choose among six types of interview questions

  1. Behaviors – you will ask your respondent about his or her actions/behaviors
  2. Values and opinions – you will ask your respondents to share their views on the topic
  3. Feelings – you will have to be careful asking questions about respondents’ feelings and perceptions of the world
  4. Knowledge – you will ask your respondents about what they know about the topic
  5. Senses and perceptions – you will ask your respondents about what they actually sensed or saw during an event
  6. Demographic characteristics – you will ask your respondents standard questions about their age, gender, family history, education, and so on.

You are the one to decide if these questions should be presented in past, present or future tenses.

Sequence and Logic

  1. Your respondents should actively participate in the process.
  2. Ask your respondents to share some factual information before you dare to ask about sensitive or controversial things. This way you will create a more comfortable atmosphere for your interviewees.
  3. Use a few facts, then ask questions, and add more facts. This way you will not overload your respondents with too much unnecessary information.
  4. Focus on present-tense questions, followed by past- and future-tense questions. People find it easier to elaborate about the present rather than the future or the past.
  5. Leave the last interview questions for respondents and let them express or discuss something they have longed to discuss during the interview.

Wording

  1. Use open-ended wording. Give your respondents freedom to choose the right wording for their answers.
  2. Ask neutral questions. Do not use any wording that can predict or change the answers provided by your respondents.
  3. Ask one question at a time; do not overload your respondents.
  4. Use clear unambiguous wording. You should know the cultural background and literacy levels of your respondents to know how to word your questions properly.
  5. Do not ask questions that may change your respondents’ intentions or answers. If you fail to ask proper questions, your respondents may feel like they need to defend their interests; as a result, their answers may not be sincere.

Doing an Interview

  1. Check if your tape recorder functions well.
  2. Do not ask several questions at once.
  3. Be neutral. Stay calm, as if your respondents do not say anything new. Any strong emotional reactions may discourage your respondents from answering your questions honestly.
  4. Show encouragement and engagement – nod your head, say “aha” and “uhuh”, etc. 
  5. Remain neutral even when you are making notes. Whenever you rush to write down something, your respondents will think that they have surprised or shocked you, and this is absolutely inacceptable in academic research.
  6. Do not skip from one topic to another, make transitions so that your respondents don’t feel confused.
  7. Make sure that you are in charge of the process at all stages of the interview. Do not lose control. Do not let your respondents control the pace and direction of the interview. You are the principal investigator, and you decide how it goes.

In the Aftermath

  1. Check if the tape recorder has been working well throughout the interview.
  2. Check your written notes and outline the most important ones. Put down any questions or concerns you might have about the answers provided by your respondents.
  3. Note anything interesting you have observed during the interview. For instance, how did the respondents behave? Were they worried or enthusiastic about the interview?