Interview Guidelines

  • by Dr. Janet Waters (revised 2017)

    Planning the Interview:

    Choose a topic for your interview. Before you begin drafting your questions, research your topic (e.g. find a text or journal article on your topic). The first thing you must do is to determine the research question - what is it you wish to know? Keep your topic in mind while you are drafting your interview questions to make sure your interview questions are relevant to it. Also, check your audio/video equipment to make sure it works properly. Choose a location for the interview that is quiet and won't be over-heard or interrupted, and always ask permission before you record your participant.

    Research Ethics for Interviews: As with all research methods, make sure your research proposal has been approved by your instructor or supervisor before conducting your interview. Your research proposal must include your interview questions and a copy of your consent form. Always go over the consent form with your participant before they sign, and ensure their anonymity and confidentiality is protected in your research process (within the legal requirements).

    Drafting your Interview Questions: Some guidelines for interview questions:

    • Start with a brief introduction: Briefly introduce your topic & who you are, but avoid overly directing your subjects' answers. You may ask demographic questions (gender, age, etc.) at this time.
    • Your questions should be clear, understandable, & inoffensive: Make sure your interview questions are clear, that they ask what you mean them to ask, and are unlikely to be misunderstood. Also, ensure that they are unbiased & not offensive in their language, & are understandable (not too technical, difficult, or unfamiliar).
    • Ask follow-up or probing questions: Be prepared to follow up on vague or incomplete answers with further probing questions like "Can you tell me more about that?" However, avoid overly specific follow up questions that might tell the participant what you are looking for (for example, you could ask: "Could you tell me more about the changes you mentioned in arguments in the family?" rather than "Have you found the arguments with your adolescent have increased and become more distressing?"
    • Don't be too obvious: Carefully word your questions to be as innocuous & unthreatening as possible, and try not to "lead" your subjects to the answers you are looking for. This is particularly important when your topic is a sensitive one, which subjects may find embarrassing, or one which they are likely to be dishonest about.
    • Check the order of your questions: It is often a good idea to ask the most important and interesting questions first (before the subject gets too bored or impatient with the interview). However, you might instead wish to lead the participant to sensitive or important questions more gradually; if so, begin with background questions.
    • Keep the interview fairly brief: Generally keep your interview to about 30 minutes. Some topics, however, will need more time - if you are interviewing parents or children about their moral reasoning, for example, you may need to take longer.
    • Pretest your interview questions: After you've constructed a draft of the interview questions, it's often a good idea to pretest the questions with a willing participant and ask for his/her feedback about their understanding of the questions, etc.

    During your interview:

    With all your equipment pretested & ready, you can set up & begin the interview with a minimum of disruptive fuss. If the participant doesn't want to be taped, take  good notes as you go alone. Even if you are also audio/video recording the interview, always take notes in any case, as equipment does fail or break down. These notes can be expanded on after the interview, while your memory is still fresh.

    When interviewing adults, try not to subtly bias the respondent's answers by inadvertently showing approval or disapproval of certain answers, or by hinting in any way at the answer you are expecting. With children it is often a good idea to express an appreciation of any answer you obtain. If you are interviewing more than one participant, make sure your introduction & questions are similar each time.

    Remember to thank the participant for their time and trouble!

    Analyzing the Interview:

    Once you have your completed interviews, you will have to make some sense of your data, & present a summary of your results in the Results section of your Research Report. The actual interview transcript (or notes) would not be given in the Results section; you should instead attach the transcript of the interview to the report as an Appendix. In your Results section would be a summary of the interview findings concerning the topic question. Use direct quotes from the interviews only as examples, where necessary to support your analysis or illustrate your point, and ensure the direct quotes do not jeopardize the participant's anonymity or confidentiality.

    Your results can sometimes be presented in the form of a table, with frequencies. For example, if you are interviewing children in various Piagetian stages about their concepts of God, you could make a table of the stages & concepts. After interviewing children and their parents about why, how, & how often they are punished, you could easily convert these answers to frequencies of types of transgressions & punishments, & frequency of punishment, by gender & age.

    However, a table is not always possible. Instead, you could summarize your findings from the interview into a ~ 2 page summary. Do analyze the meaning of the interview findings (e.g. which stage of moral reasoning was displayed in Participant #1's answer to the Heinz question) in the Results section, but save your discussion of these findings for the Discussion section.

    Presenting & Discussing your Interview Results:

    The standard APA style lab report can be used to present the results of your interview. In the Introduction, briefly review past research & theory in your topic question (summarize current research on your topic of family arguments and relations with adolescent children). Use APA referencing style to cite your sources. In the Method section, under Participants, present a general description of the participant you interviewed (age, gender, etc.). In the Materials section, describe any materials you may have used, and in the Procedure section, describe your general research strategy (for example, you interview could have collected data for a case study, or for a phenomenological study) & describe your methods of data collection (which would be the interview).

    In the Results section of the report, present your 2-4 page summary of the interview findings, as noted above. No citations would occur here, since you are describing your results.

    Finally, in the Discussion section, integrate your interview findings to theory & past research findings in your topic. Relate your interview findings to what you have learned from the text about that topic. For example, you could compare your adolescent participants' reports about the frequency and content of their arguments with their parents, to the finding of past research discussed in the textbook or research journal articles on your topic. If your findings contradict current research or theory, or if you observed something unusual or unexpected, you could suggest reasons why your observations may differ from the expected findings.

    Use APA referencing style to cite your sources. Do finish the Discussion section with a note on the limitations of your study in terms of generalizability.

    © Janet Waters, 2017