What are the most important things to remember in conducting interviews?
There are many important things a researcher should know before conducting interviews in their qualitative research. First off, an interview as defined by Brinkmann and Kvale, is a “conversation that has a structure and a purpose,” (Merriam, 197). The main point of conducting interviews is when we “cannot observe behavior, feelings, or how people interpret the world around them,” (Merriam, 108). “Interviews provide in-depth information pertaining to participants’ experiences and viewpoints of a particular topic,” according to an article written by Daniel Turner III. Interviews used as data collection in qualitative research is the preferred tactic because it either gets better data, more data, or costs less than other forms of data collection (Merriam, 108).
One of the first important things to remember when conducting interviews is to choose the type of interview you want to conduct. There are three types of interviews as described by Merriam (page 109). The first is highly structured or standardized, semi-structured, and unstructured/informal. Highly structured interviews are the ones where the questions are written ahead of time, and it’s usually used to obtain demographic data. Unstructured interviews are more like conversations, where the researchers goal is to probe questions for later. The “interviewer goes with the flow,” as, said in an article titled “Interview as a Method for Qualitative Research.” Semi-structured interviews are a mix of both informal and standardized. The questions are not predetermined and ask for specific data.
Depending on what your topic is, “who” you’re interviewing is important. Researchers conduct interviews with focus groups only when the group has knowledge of the topic. The upside with focus groups is the discussions happening within the group, which usually generates more data (Merriam, 114). Online interviews can be done asynchronously or synchronously. Online synchronous interviews can be done through computer mediated communicated tools and asynchronous interviews can be done via e-mail or online discussion groups. The strengths with conducting online interviews are not worrying about location. The researcher is able to send the questions to anyone. The downside to conducting online interviews is not everyone having Internet access and there’s always that change of confidentiality being comprised (Merriam, 116).
The key to getting good data from interviewing is asking good questions. One of the things that Merriam suggests is to practice interviewing ahead of time. Ask the questions to yourself to see if they make sense or are holding onto useless data. Another good tip is to conduct a “pilot test.” It helps in determining if there are flaws, limitations or weaknesses. The pilot test should be done with people who are similar to the participants being studied, according to Turner. This can help refine the questions.
Another important thing to remember when conducting interviews is what kinds of questions you ask. There are four types of questions: hypothetical, devil’s advocate, ideal position, and interpretive. Hypothetical questions begin with “what if” or “suppose.” Devil’s advocate questions are where the respondent is challenged to consider an opposing view to a situation. Ideal position questions ask the respondent to explain a situation and interpretive questions provide a check on understanding and an opportunity for more information to be revealed, opinions, or feelings (Merriam, 120).
There are three things to refrain from doing in interviews. Merriam talks about refraining from multiple questions in one, yes/no questions, and leading questions, which reveal a bias or an assumption (page 121).
The last thing to remember when conducting interviews is recording your data. Interviews can be recorded by video/audio tape, note taking during the interview, or writing down after the interview (Merriam, 131).
Practicing before the interview, developing a relationship with the respondent(s), the type of questions you ask, the way you record the data, are all-important aspects to consider when conducting an interview.
Merriam, S., & Merriam, S. (2009). Qualitative research: A guide to design and implementation. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
The Qualitative Report Volume 15 Number 3 May 2010 754-760 http://www.nova.edu/ssss/QR/QR15-3/qid.pdf
Valenzuela, D., & Shrivastava, P. (n.d.). Interview as a Method for Qualitative Research. Retrieved October 8, 2015, from http://www.public.asu.edu/~kroel/www500/Interview Fri.pdf