How to Conduct Qualitative Interviewing

Interviewing is the most common method that is being used in qualitative research especially in phenomenological studies and other approaches that use principles of phenomenology. Its strength lies in its facility that allows active participation of the data source (interviewee) and firsthand data collection which if properly done would increase the research credibility.

The following is the general procedure of conducting an interview.

Preparation

Depending on the type of interview setting, the researcher should prepare either a questionnaire set or guide questions that correspond to the research problem. This is called an interview schedule which may include a structured or semi-structured script designed to maximize time and minimize unnecessary elements that may enter the interview process.

Along with the interview schedule is the protocol that contains the reminders regarding the codes of ethics of research particularly in using interview, e.g., the do’s and don’ts. It is imperative that the researcher is aware of the ethical considerations of research. As long as a human being is involved in research, an informed consent that contains the topic, objectives, and uses of the data, the confidentiality as well as the rights and privileges of both the interviewee and interviewer should be prepared (see Dawson, 2007).

Choice of recorders depends on the setting. A structured interview may just need a questionnaire set wherein the interviewer may just tick on the boxes for every close-ended question. Or for open ended-questions, the interviewer may write the answers directly on the provided space on the questionnaires. Note-taking is useful as back-up for audio and visual recording and also if the interviewee refuses the other forms of records. The researcher should provide a recording format for notes which may include spaces for verbatim answers, behavioural observations, context elements, and voice details if these other details are needed.

The most common method being used in interview is audio recording. The researcher may also opt to use this if other details e.g. voice, intonation, enunciation for later analysis, aside from the verbatim answers are deemed necessary. If the interviewee allows it, audio recording may also be used as back-up or for convenience and time-maximization. Audio and visual recording like pictures and videos are effective in semi-structured and unstructured interview settings.

Whatever method the researcher decides to use, it is important that a back-up is provided in cases of unexpected setbacks from the first records.

Rapport Building

Interviewer-interviewee relationship should start with the invitation for participation. This could be done formally thru letters or in person verbally. This is the stage wherein the researcher introduces the study, objectives, importance of the interviewee’s participation, and interview details e.g. protocols and agreements, informed consent.

Be reminded that the first things in this stage are to gain the trust and establish the willingness of the participant to enter the interview setting. Otherwise, the interview will not be able to push through or the data that will be collected will be thin. The participant’s answers will be too limited due to some reservations brought about by half-hearted involvement. The goal of rapport building is to be able to extract full honest answers.

Agreement on the time and location of the interview should be done in this stage also. Consider the participant’s suggestions foremost. The researcher should avoid insisting his/her own time for convenience.

Interview Setting

The researcher should execute the designed setting on the agreed time and location. The design could be one-shot or multi-tiered depending upon the scope and depth of interview. One-shot is ideal for initial exploration, baseline studies or researches that require very limited data collection time. Multi-tiered is necessary for in-depth inquiries like case studies and some phenomenological researches. Dolbeare and Schuman (Schuman, 1982) designed a useful three interview series for phenomenological approach that is effective in enriching and strengthening the participant’s subjective meanings of a particular experience (see Seidman, 2006).

Be reminded that the interview is a dialogue with a particular focus on the defined topic. That is, there should be an exchange of words – the interviewer providing the guide by asking questions and delivering follow-ups and prompts; the interviewee as answering the questions and responding to the prompts and follow-ups. If the design is unstructured, the interviewer may also provide answers if necessary. The guide and prompts are needed to lead the process in its proper track.

Asking questions in this stage is critical. The interviewer should be trained to learn some skills especially in formulating and delivering questions. A question asked in the wrong way will not be able to extract full honest answers. Leading, loaded and double-barrel questions are some examples of these mistakes in question formulation.

Acknowledgment/Closure

This stage definitely ends the interviewer-interviewee relationship. Some researchers take this part for granted thinking that the relationship only starts once they begin asking questions and ends with the last questions and saying thank you. This is not the case however. The relationship should end properly by providing closure like sending a thank you letter and/or giving a token of appreciation. This is an implication that the established relationship ends permanently.

References

Dawson, C. (2007). A practical guide to qualitative research: A user-friendly manual in mastering research techniques and projects. Oxford: How To Content.

Schuman, D. (1982). Policy analysis, education, and everyday life. Lexington, MA:Heath.

Seidman, I. (2006). Interviewing as qualitative research: A guide for researchers in Education and Social sciences (3rd ed.) New York: Teachers College Press.

©2014 December 22 J G Pizarro

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